Reformism vs. Populism in the Philippines

Issue Date October 2010
Volume 21
Issue 4
Page Numbers 154-168
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The Philippines’ first automated elections in May 2010 were generally honest and orderly, surprising pessimistic Filipino and foreigner observers alike. “Noynoy” Aquino easily won the presidential race by focusing on his “reformist” credentials, a strategy that his mother (her death in August 2009 led him to launch his candidacy) had adopted against Marcos in 1986. Reformism involves direct media appeals and the claim “I will not steal from you.” Two other leading presidential candidates took a more “populist” stance, which also relies more on the media than on clientelism but with the message “I will help you.” Interestingly, Aquino’s running mate was defeated in the (separate) vice-presidential race by a “populist” candidate, showing this narrative also remains strong. Regardless of whether government grows substantially cleaner under Aquino, most Filipinos will long remain impoverished. This may lead to a pattern of electoral cycling in which greater efficiency and greater equality alternate as the major promises in elections.

About the Author

Mark R. Thompson is professor of politics at City University of Hong Kong.

View all work by Mark R. Thompson