Friday, April 9, 2010

Aquino vs Villar vs Estrada (3-cornered fight shaping up 1 month before polls)

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:25:00 04/10/2010

Filed Under: Politics, Inquirer Politics, Elections, Eleksyon 2010

Original Story:

MANILA, Philippines—With a month left in the campaign, the presidential race is shaping up to be a three-cornered fight among Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Sen. Manuel “Manny” Villar, and deposed President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, according to political analysts.

“It’s not anymore a four-cornered fight. Gibo (administration standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro) is out of the running. It’s a pity,” Ramon Casiple on Friday told the Inquirer, citing the latest Pulse Asia survey.

If Aquino keeps his lead over Villar in the next survey expected in two weeks, he has the presidency in the bag, said Casiple, the executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.

And the big number of undecided voters in the last leg of the campaign can be crucial for Aquino to score a landslide or for Estrada to catch up with Villar, Casiple said.

In the Pulse Asia survey, the undecided respondents grew to 9 percent.

Bobby Tuazon, the director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, made an identical analysis of a three-cornered fight.

“Gibo Teodoro and Dick Gordon (Sen. Richard Gordon, Bagumbayan standard-bearer) have 30 days left to catch up, especially by winning support from undecided voters. There are still many,” Tuazon said in an e-mail interview.

“The last 30 days are better spent by clinching deliverable campaign pledges from local politicians and party-switching. In this final stage, campaign machinery, organization and logistics count a lot and will even decide the outcome of the presidential election,” he said.

‘Safe’ with 12 percent

In Pulse Asia’s March 21-28 survey, Aquino slightly improved to 37 percent, Villar sharply fell to 25 percent, Estrada slightly dropped to 18 percent, and Teodoro slightly improved to 7 percent.

“If we use trends as basis, then it’s Noynoy,” Casiple said of the only son of the late President Corazon Aquino and the late former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. “Twelve percent, or even 9 percent, is already big enough to sustain a winning margin. You’ll lose on your own doing.”

According to Casiple, a “safe lead” for Aquino is 12 percent—equivalent, he said, to 4.8 million if 40 million of the 50 million registered voters turn out to vote.

“In practice that’s a big, big number... If he maintains that lead in the last survey, which comes out on the third week of April, it’s a homecoming for him,” Casiple said.

In Casiple’s view, a 4.8-million margin over the next candidate is “too high” to be affected by cheating.

“If Noynoy gets 15 percent, that’s a landslide. He really needs a landslide to offset whatever schemes are out there to cheat. He’s almost there,” Casiple said.

As for Villar, his biggest problem is not how to catch up with Aquino but how to arrest his slide, Casiple observed.

“If this trend continues... Manny Villar’s candidacy is finished,” he said.

‘Villaroyo’ No. 1 issue

Casiple attributed the steep drop in Villar’s ratings to reports that President Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband were his secret backers, his extravagant ad spending, which also raised questions about the sources of his funds, his handling of funds if he becomes president, and his media handlers’ “hype” of his poor origins.

“The No. 1 cause of his downslide is the ‘Villaroyo’ issue. That story may not even be true. But in an election, it’s a question of whether people believe it,” Casiple said.

He said Teodoro’s resignation as chair of the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD and the Arroyos’ sudden pronouncements of support for him were “really a confirmation” of the purported ties between the First Couple and Villar.

Undecided voters

Casiple said he believed that this percentage of undecided respondents had been chipped off the support for Villar, who registered 35 percent in the January survey and 29 percent in the February survey.

“Those who withdrew from Villar became undecided, so that gives him a chance to take them back. But of course the odds are against him. The momentum of support is going outward,” Casiple said.

Aquino hardly gained points in the same survey because of his failure to connect with the poor “who could not identify” with the 1986 People Power Revolt that his mother championed, according to Casiple.

He said both Aquino and Estrada could capitalize on the undecided to gain more votes: “The work is cut out for Erap and Noynoy—how to capitalize on the weakening attraction of Villar to this particular sector. Nine percent is big. That’s enough to ensure victory if Noynoy gets it. For Erap, that’s enough to reach Villar.”

Warning vs complacency

Aquino may be the survey front-runner, but Tuazon warned that with the first automated elections, “complacency can spell disaster.”

“Whoever is topping the surveys or [has] popular appeal that may not be measurable statistically at this point should strive to widen his lead convincingly by several folds. This is to make it difficult for electoral fraud which, in recent presidential elections, decided the outcome,” Tuazon said.

“One may lead [in] the surveys, but this doesn’t mean you will win the automated votes,” he said.

Tuazon cited the Commission on Elections’ automated election system, which he described as “replete with several vulnerabilities and lacks even the minimum safeguards.”

“Presidential candidates should now concentrate on how to guard their votes using a new tack. If they haven’t done so, their campaign supporters and poll watchers should begin monitoring the deployment of voting machines, ballots, ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia. They should train their watchers on how to watch the whole system,” he said.

2-pronged approach

Assessing the campaign, Tuazon noted that the candidates were using a “two-pronged” approach—campaigning on the ground and using modern media technology.

“[They rely] on a traditional approach by saturating the [vote-rich] provinces while ensuring the media coverage of their sorties,” Tuazon said.

He added that while TV coverage benefited those candidates able to organize rallies and caravans complete with sound bytes and crowd shots, “this may work to the disadvantage of others who cannot sustain a daily campaign or who can only [amass] a thin crowd that clearly shows their poor machinery.”

But Tuazon said it was “disappointing” to see that the use of TV and radio was serving to “reinforce the traditional approach” to campaigning.

“The broadcast technology brings only sound bytes and images to the voters. Indeed, technology may enhance name recall, but it is short of its information potential in projecting issues and substance to the campaign,” he said.

‘All intro’

Publicus Limited Co. general manager Malou Tiquia, who actively works with candidates, made a similar observation: “There’s not much discussion of issues. It’s all introduction—who are you, where do you come from, etc.”

She pointed out that a campaign had three basic parts—“introduction, issues and bandwagon.”

“At the moment, the candidates are stuck in the first part,” she said on the phone.

“For example, Aquino keeps repeating that he’s the son of Cory and Ninoy. The people already know that. Another example is Villar, who talks about his dead brother.

“The candidates don’t get to establish credentials. It becomes a sob-story campaign, a character campaign. We should go beyond that.”

Tiquia said the problem might be the length of the campaign:

“With a 90-day campaign, what can you do? You don’t have time to talk about the issues, so your campaign centers on emotion.

Crucial stretch

“The voters are short-changed. What you’ll make come election time is an emotional, not a rational, choice.”

Tiquia said it was difficult to make predictions at this point. “I think we’re just entering a crucial stretch. You can see people are still switching—sometimes for Villar, sometimes for Aquino,” she said. With a report from Kate Pedroso and Eliza Victoria, Inquirer Research

Original Story:

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