Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Running Start

The start of the official campaign period for politicians gunning for local positions in the May 2010 general elections started Friday two weeks ago with a whimper in Lianga. Unlike the histrionics and pseudo-showbiz antics with which national candidates inaugurated the start of their own campaign period earlier, what characterized the first days of electioneering here, at least for local candidates, was an atmosphere of frantic calm, a sudden quickening of tension amidst what, at first glance, would pass for just another regular day in the boondocks.

In the old days, local politicians would vie for the honor and prestige of being the first to greet the first day of the campaign with huge, elaborate rallies and meetings de avance. The idea, of course, was to intimidate the opposition with a show of financial and logistical strength calculated to cow them into some form of surrender and abject submission.

Nowadays, it would seem that local politicians have decided to change tactics. The strategy, it now seems, is to maximize the limited financial resources they have in this hard economic times and the get the biggest bang for every buck they have to spend. So, expensive rallies and meetings are discouraged while smaller and more intimate caucuses with community leaders, voting blocs and ordinary voters are in now favor.

House to house sorties are suddenly back in vogue with candidates going the rounds of even the remotest barangays or villages to press the flesh and shake the calloused and dirty hands of the rural electorate. Local community leaders are personally sought out and courted with outright cash incentives and promises of future favors. If the elections were a basketball game, this was "man to man" offence and defence of the first order.

To advertise their candidacies, local candidates flood public spaces with computer printed, full-colored tarpaulin posters and banners which nowadays have become the favourite medium for political advertising. From walls, fences, billboards and even electric posts the perfectly coiffed faces stare out brazenly selling everything from the possible to the impossible and the mundane to the extraordinary.

In the meantime, pick-up trucks and vans criss-cross the local streets and alleyways, their sides festooned with campaign posters while from mounted bullhorn speakers blare forth political jingles based on popular songs and passionate exhortations exulting the virtues of their candidates. On the roads linking the towns and barangays, other vehicles with dark tinted wind shields and windows rush back and forth ferrying the politicians themselves with their security escorts and staff to scheduled meetings and sorties.

There are many here who are hoping that this back to the basics style of political campaigning that harks back to the days of old when the art of wooing votes was more personal and direct than virtual would eventually lead to some form of positive reform in local politics specifically a change towards more direct and periodic consultation with the electorate by both would-be politicians and those who would actually be able to assume public office after the May elections.

But even then one is hoping against hope for the basic rotten core that lies at the heart of the way politics here is being waged remains. What does give me a lift, however, is that there indeed seems to be a small, nascent yet emerging and growing consensus among voters that they should be demanding for more public accountability for government officials and reforms in the political system that would make it more sensitive and responsive to the needs and wishes of the electorate. Many here are also becoming aware of how important and crucial the coming elections are to the continued survival of democratic politics in this country.

Whether this new awareness and the growing sense of civic consciousness is enough to make a significant difference in the coming polls sadly, however, remains to be seen.

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