President-elect Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. speaks to the media at his headquarters in the city of Mandaluyong on Monday, June 20, 2022. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA
ONE DAY, historians and political scientists will place the rise of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to the pinnacle of Philippine politics alongside the rise of Tony Blair in Britain and the rise to power of Junichiro Koizumi in Japan.
Any successful national leader probably believes that his or her path to power is sui generis (one of a kind).
For seasoned political observers, however, there is nothing new in politics; there are only ingenious reinventions of the wheel.
It does not matter whether one is running for the presidency of the United States or the post of prime minister in countries as different as the United Kingdom and Japan.
The struggle for power ultimately boils down to a struggle between strategies, tactics and visions. The winner is the one who best masters the strategic calculation.
What Blair, Koizumi and Marcos share in common is their skillful use of reform politics as a key to gaining political power.
Blair broke the stranglehold of Margaret Thatcher and the Tories on British politics by renewing the Labor Party with a program called New Labour. British voters overwhelmingly turned to him in the 1997 election.
Koizumi rose from obscurity to lead his political faction to the top of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2001, pushing for the transformation of Japanese politics.
Marcos came to power this year after decades of exile and toiling in the political wilderness, transcending the quagmire of weak political parties in the Philippines with a political coalition that transcends political divides, geography, socio-economic class, generations, professions and gender to prevail in the battle of hearts and minds in the general election.
Each was a compelling political lesson in its own way.
Tony Blair and New Labor
In four consecutive elections from 1978 to 1997, the Labor Party was defeated by the Conservative Party, which had found a dynamic new leader in Thatcher.
Labor has repeatedly lost while under the control of a coalition of unions and left-wing unilateralists.
In 1994 Blair took over the leadership of the Labor Party. He moved the party decisively forward by dethroning union bosses and adopting a policy of giving unions “equities, not favours”.
Key to Blair’s success was his recognition that he could only win by genuinely convincing most party members of the need for the party to change.
Blair’s galvanic reform was the revision of Term 4 of the Labor Party constitution, which committed him to the wholesale nationalization of production. This led to a new commitment to social justice, equality, responsibility and prosperity.
Through this party reform, Blair fought Thatcher’s measures to limit union power and restrict the absolute right to strike.
Under Blair, Labor won two successive elections and stood to win one more, but for Blair’s unexpected exit from power in 2007.
Without apologizing, Blair called his political approach “permanent revisionism,” a continual search for better ways to achieve party goals based on a clear view of the changes taking place in advanced industrial societies. (Let’s see how Marcos’ critics for “historical revisionism” will struggle with Blair’s idea of permanent revisionism).
Koizumi reforms Japan
The lesson of Blair’s triumph in the UK has not been lost on the world.
Halfway around the world, in Japan, another politician was also keen to employ reform politics to secure political victory and kick-start national transformation.
In 2001, Koizumi reformed his own party, the LDP, which had ruled Japan since the 1950s. He led it to victory in Japanese parliamentary elections.
The LDP is essentially an ongoing political agreement, constantly renegotiated to preserve a balance of power between its factions.
The LDP not only controls the Diet (parliament), but also dominates the civil service bureaucracy whose regulations shape every aspect of Japanese life.
There is no real distinction between career bureaucrats in appointed positions and elected LDP officials.
Politicians coexist happily with bureaucrats, unconcerned about the supremacy of the other.
But then came Koizumi, an LDP politician who had spent his career in relative obscurity. He rose to the top of one of the party’s many factions. As no politician had ever done before, Koizumi understood the need for fundamental reform. Like a Japanese Mikhail Gorbachev, to borrow an expression from Dick Morris, Koizumi defied the former LDP from within.
Koizumi burst onto the Japanese political landscape in the early 21st century as a rock star. Unlike the staid, aged political leaders the nation had endured for decades, Koizumi delighted the people. They saw in Koizumi a new style of leadership and a genuine commitment to reform, so different from the slow prime ministers who came in and out of power in dizzying succession.
In a series of bitter political battles, he challenged his own party, pulled it from the brink of extinction and led it to victory in the 2001 Upper House elections.
Koizumi served as Prime Minister of Japan and Chairman of the LDP from 2001 to 2006. He retired from politics in 2009 and remains the sixth longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history.
The unity coalition of Marcos Jr.
It was generally assumed or hoped by many Filipinos that Marcos would run for president in the elections scheduled for May 9, 2022.
When he finally announced his candidacy in October 2021, public reaction was initially lukewarm, even among those who wanted him to run. Many feared that he was too laid back as a political leader. Many couldn’t understand how ignorant Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo could have beaten him in the 2016 vice-presidential poll, and how the late former president Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd openly cheated him out of victory. , as he cowered against the victor. outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte.
In the 2022 election, there were fears that BBM did not have the fire in its stomach to mount a successful campaign for the presidency. They wondered if he could put together a campaign team and campaign organization that could prevail in a hotly contested election fight.
BBM found the answer in the reform policy strategy it chose as its main campaign message.
He rejected the negative campaign policy against political rivals, in favor of a policy of civility and finding common ground.
He studied the political landscape and concluded that there was no political party that could effectively carry him as its standard bearer, and effectively resist the insults and hysteria from the enemies of the Yellows and Marcos.
He chose to forge a new type of political coalition built around core Philippine values and traditions. He put his faith in an alliance that would transcend political parties, geographical divisions, attract support from all socio-economic classes and various ethnic and religious groups, appeal to all generations and all genders of voters.
Marcos summed up his campaign message in one word, “Unity.” He knew his potential as he tested it during his previous vice-presidential campaign in 2016.
As the Liberals and rival candidates clung to a negative campaign strategy, Marcos rejected any tactics of smearing his opponents and questioning their integrity or merit. He held firmly to the consistency and power of his message, and hoped that his character and personality would do the rest when meeting face-to-face with voters.
When BBM stood before the nation as a candidate, he was able to plausibly present a vision and program of government that the people could believe in. You could believe him when he promised to lead an administration that would seek well-being and well-being. of all, and the certain stability and security of the nation.
The authenticity of this message is what drew huge crowds to his campaign rallies and motorcades.
Public opinion pollsters correctly read the public pulse when they reported that the response from the voting public to Bongbong was electric and unprecedented. Pulse Asia, the country’s leading pollster, said it had never seen in all its years of polling such a declarative and unwavering majority in favor of a single candidate.
Marcos built it all from the recognition he couldn’t win by rooting his candidacy on Filipino politics as usual.
He refused to take the decadent and weak party system for granted.
He dismissed the idea of working patiently with mainstream mainstream media. Instead, he treated social media and the internet as a formidable new force in national politics, which he could nurture as his own media network for his campaign,
In short, Marcos became more than just a candidate for change, but a transformative or transformational leader, to use the term of political scientist James Macgregor Burns.
Echo of Churchill
This will incense Marcos’ enemies. In a way, too, BBM’s rise to the limelight echoes the topsy-turvy history of Winston Churchill.
It took over 30 years for Winston to find his way back to the top of British politics.
It took Marcos 36 years of life in exile and many years of toil in the desert to find his way to the Philippine presidency.
When appendicitis kept Churchill from appearing in public during the 1922 campaign, he lamented that he was “without office, without seat, without party and without appendage”.
Amid peacetime frustration, Churchill became a transformational leader in the demanding challenge of World War II, arguably one of the greatest.
Marcos discovered hidden reserves of character and rays of insight in the 2022 election and in the heartbreaking crisis wrought by the coronavirus pandemic on nations and economies. Here he found his moment.
Marcos steps out of his father’s shadow to claim his turn to lead our people and our country.