Elections and COVID-19


    THE current COVID-19 pandemic has inevitably altered the texture of elections in many countries, and sitting heads of government especially those running in the next elections will have to contend with the inconvenient question from their constituencies: how did you score in fighting the pandemic?

    In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won a landslide victory, a historic outright majority — the first since New Zealand adopted proportional voting in 1996. Her campaign centered on the government’s coronavirus response and crisis management has designed Ardern’s first term in office, what with the pandemic, the March 2019 attack on Christchurch’s mosque, and the volcanic eruption on White Island.

    New Zealand recorded only 25 COVID-19 deaths in a population of 5 million, and US President Donald Trump had the temerity then to refer to New Zealand, an ally of the US, as up to its neck in coronavirus cases. Trump must be referring to another country — the United States of America.

    ‘There are Filipino political pundits who say that whoever wins in this election — Trump or Biden — will not have a huge effect on the Philippines.’

    For sure, there are a lot of issues now being ventilated in connection with the coming US elections, where Trump is seeking a fresh mandate and is being challenged by Democrat candidate Joe Biden. Foremost in these issues are Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, loss of thousands of jobs, abortion, and whether to repeal or not the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The US suffered 220,000 deaths from COVID-19, with confirmed cases reaching 8.3 million. Unemployment in the United States is higher than it has been at any point since the Great Depression.

    There are Filipino political pundits who say that whoever wins in this election — Trump or Biden — will not have a huge effect on the Philippines. Others point out that in case of a Biden victory, the Democratic Party’s focus on human rights and the rule of law could have political pressure on the Duterte administration, considering his highly controversial war on drugs and allegations of extra-judicial killings.

    The Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI) said in a statement last October 25 that the upcoming US election “takes on increasing significance” as the country can recover from the pandemic best under a benign regional geopolitical environment.

    IDSI research fellow Henry Chan wrote: “A Trump victory will pose problems for the country as the Philippines will be under increasing pressure to take sides in the rivalry between two giants. The country might not be able to navigate the neutral path based on the best interests of the country, which allows it to tap the opportunities that both sides offer. In the case of a Biden term, chances of a more subdued belligerence or confrontation will allow the Philippines to focus on economic recovery.”

    The Philippines watches the current political exercise in the US from a distance, both physically and figuratively, even as presidential spokesman Harry Roque said assured he has not heard President Duterte endorse Trump anew, just as he did several months ago.