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TURNING POINT: The Changing Political Arena

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NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 11 October) — Some 62 million to 63 million registered voters are to troop to the polls on May 9, 2022 to elect a new president of the country. Assuming a voters’ turnout of 80% similar to the 2016 presidential elections (81%), some 50.4 million Filipinos will decide on the next president of the country.

In the 2016 elections, Rodrigo Duterte captured the presidency by bagging 38.6%  or 15.9M of the 43.7M votes cast in a five-cornered fight. Assuming a similar trend in 2022 where we have a six-cornered fight, the one who grabs, say, 35% of the votes (17.5M)  will likely be the next president of the Republic. How to secure that possible magic number is the major challenge for the contenders.

Today’s landscape in soliciting votes is adversely altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mass gathering and face-to-face campaign would likely be restricted, if not prohibited at all, for public health security reason.

Thus, usual crowd entertainment antics, such as (Bong) Revilla’s inane Budot dance to capture attention and recall, as well as Digong’s sick narrative of displaying his humongous dick while walking in a hotel lobby, to endorse his 2019 senatorial bets, may not repeat this time around.

With or without restrictions, said mode of campaign ought to be avoided by health-conscious and socially responsible candidates.

Considering the restrictive circumstances, political campaign may now heavily rely on information technology and the social media.

Raising awareness and influencing voting behavior outside face-to-face communication used to be the domain of traditional media of communication – radio, TV and print. The role, however, of these communication channels in free democratic elections has been held suspect because they are owned by economic elites or the so-called oligarchs of society who, in one way or another, are in politics as well.

The advent of the Internet, personal computer and mobile phone, particularly smartphones, changes the landscape of communication the world over: the social media comes into being. Social media refers to a collective of online communication channels where communities interact, share content and collaborate. With social media, communication has been democratized. Anybody now with a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account can publish his views or perception of persons, places and events or share with anybody any information of common interest.

The social media is a great platform for helpful public information and discourse in a democracy. Unfortunately, it has also become a purveyor of disinformation, deception and fake news.  What happened in the Nov. 3, 2020 US presidential elections is a case in point. A lot of misinformation and disinformation and irrational calls to action via social media platforms led to the deadly siege of the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

In the 2016 presidential elections in the Philippines, campaign strategists already made use of the social media to enhance awareness and recall of their candidate.  It is also in this period that online troll armies were observed to influence social media engagements and interactions in elections worldwide, enriching the persona of certain candidates and demolishing their opponents by atrocious disinformation.

There are, accordingly, 76 million social media users in the Philippines today. Of these, 75 million are on Facebook. Of the social media users, 86% or 65.4M is of voting age where 52% are young voters.. The 62 million to 63 million registered voters in 2021, according to the estimate of  the Commission on Elections, fall coincidentally inside the range of social media users.

Expect, therefore, the political campaign to rage in the social media battleground, particularly in Facebook, fighting fiercely for the votes of young voters.

Expect then campaign antics like the Revilla inane Budot dance and  Duterte’s sick personal humongous dick narrative  to transport to Facebook.

Expect nasty demolition posts to dwarf decent candidate presentations

Expect demolition visuals to twist a candidate image upside down. In fact, some have already started appearing two days ago, where a formidable candidate is projected saying something unlawful or immoral, contrary to candidate’s publicly known advocacy.

Expect online trolls to flood your newsfeed with nonsensical stories to provoke you to stupid arguments just to put their candidate in your attention and that of your friends who are following you.

That and many more inanities, insane and toxic campaign materials will reach your place that could ruin your day during the campaign period. Stay safe and healthy by avoiding any entanglement with mindless trolls or with their rabid fanatic handlers.

Meanwhile, there are 13 million voters who are unreachable by internet-based platforms. Most of them are likely found in blighted urban communities and in remote rural areas.

In urban areas, TV will play a great role in political campaign. However poor, families struggle to possess cheap used TV sets, dumped here as e-waste from Korea and Japan, as their primary source of entertainment.  On the other hand, radio will continue to play a dominant role in raising awareness and in influencing votes in remote rural villages.

And since almost everybody now owns a voice and text messaging mobile phones, the 13 million voters outside internet-based platforms may also be reached by text messaging  campaign which could be networked with face-to-face communication within family circles.

The possibilities of netting votes are only limited by one’s imagination in this age of information and communication. Of course, do not discount the role of vote selling and buying in determining the outcome of the elections.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)








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