In a Parliamentary System, Duterte Could Use His Popularity as Political Capital

From his election in the summer of 2016 to the present day, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has held consistently high national approval ratings across multiple qualifying categories and across multiple regions of his diverse country. According to a new poll from Social Weather Stations (SWS) measuring Duterte’s popularity in the 4th quarter (Q4) of 2018, 74% of all Filipinos are satisfied with Duterte’s performance, an uptick of four points since Q3. Likewise, only 15% were dissatisfied, an improvement of one point compared with Q3.

While Duterte’s popularity is derived from his expansion of economic growth, emphasis on political accountability, his stance on keeping the public safe from narco-terrorists, far-left terrorists (the NPA) and religious extremists (the Daesh aligned Maute group), tax reform, universal medical care, investment in education, measures improving of the environment and Duterte’s support for OFWs, to name but a few – there is never the less an elephant in the room when it comes to talking about Duterte’s popularity.

Duterte is a highly popular political leader who according to the rules of the 1987 Constitution of The Philippines will not be able to stand in a new presidential election after his current term expires, even though he would likely win re-election if he were allowed to contest such a race.  Inversely, if Duterte was wildly unpopular – for example if his disapproval rating was 74% – there would be absolutely nothing that the people could do about it. This is because the presidential system of The Philippines does not reward competent leaders with a further democratic mandate while it simultaneously does not allow incompetent leaders to be removed after losing the political confidence of a directly democratically elected body.

In a parliamentary system however, Duterte would not only be able to capitalise on his popularity but could do so in a way that would render the arguments of his opponents completely redundant. While in parliamentary systems a prime minister (head of government) deemed to be incompetent or incapable can be removed in a simple majority no-confidence vote, a prime minister whose popularity is growing can call a snap election in order to capitalise on his popularity.

This is how it would work if today, The Philippines had a parliamentary system: imagine if PDP-Laban (Duterte’s party) had 200 out of 400 seats in a parliamentary chamber and then Duterte saw a poll that showed his already high national popularity had grown even further. If so inclined, he could call for a snap election (aka an instant election) and test his popularity throughout the country. Chances are that Duterte’s party would win more than 200 seats in such an instance, thus allowing his opponents to try and gain more votes while ultimately failing in their endeavour. To put it another way, in parliamentary politics one can show rather than tell because one can increase one’s seats (and hence one’s political power) or lose one’s political position of leadership entirely based on how one’s performance is evaluated. In this sense, Duterte and his opponents could have their arguments tested before the public as frequently as they like (through no confidence motions or through snap elections), thus forcing all sides to put their arguments to a very meaningful test.

In this sense, parliamentary politics mirrors the real world of commerce far more accurately than a presidential system. Imagine if there was a man employed to inspect conveyor belts in a factory and after several months it became clear to his managers and co-workers that he was lazy, incompetent and that his lack of care was causing multiple conveyor belt break-downs which cost the company money and hence the ability to employ more workers and give bonuses to existing workers. According to the rules of presidential systems, such a worker could only be removed six years after he was lawfully (but mistakenly) hired, whilst a good worker would not even be entitled to a pay rise after six years of diligent work.

No one could run a successful company that way and yet that is how nations with presidential systems see their countries being run. Is it any wonder therefore that for decades, parliamentary Singapore and Malaysia were far ahead of The Philippines economically? While Rodrigo Duterte is an excellent leader, like the diligent factory worker in the example above, Duterte will not be able to get rewarded for his efforts after six years even though it is clear that according to current trends, a vast majority of the people would seek to reward him with an extension of his social contract to lead the nation politically.

While Presidential systems in countries with free speech laws like those of The Philippines allow for a leader to be praised and criticised every day of the week, there is ultimately nothing those offering praise nor those offering criticism can do to act on their sentiments. In other words, in presidential systems one is allowed to tell but not show.

This is all the more reason why it is of the utmost importance for Diehard Duterte Supporters to become Diehard Parliamentary Supporters before his term is up in 2022. 

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