2016 Jitters

2016 is 16 months away and some businesses are doing daily countdowns setting aside any expansion plans while members of the diplomatic community are said to be having jitters due to prospects for 2016.

2016 is 16 months away and some businesses are doing daily countdowns setting aside any expansion plans while members of the diplomatic community are said to be having jitters due to prospects for 2016.

Clearly, any change in administration leads to jitters but the Philippines has gone to worst and back and the country is still standing, securing its seat in the community of nations. Just like its people, the Philippines is resilient despite its current underperforming leader and a management style that borders into child play, blaming the ills of the past and not moving forward. Paralysis by analysis seems to be the order of the day with decisions delayed, appointments slow to come by and unconstitutional moves coated as reforms, as well as total disorder and delay justified as being cautious and avoiding graft.

It has been said that Aquino has given a new shine to brand PH. Investors are coming in because of “relatively clean government.” 448 days to go and the country stands on three potential legacies for Aquino II: Tuwid na Daan (TND), economic boom and peace accord. How are the cards stacked?

TND is sound and fury. It has been used as a political sword to slay critics or to sideline them for the meantime so “shades of truth” are managed well. Economic boom is a result of the hardball political trade offs made by Arroyo which resulted to good economic fundamentals. Pass the competition law and Aquino can crow about economic reforms, meanwhile it has always been the unconstitutional DAP. Peace accord has been compromised by the very team that pushed it because of Mamasapano. Talk about legacies!

The jitters though is not limited to the Philippines but aplenty in a region trying to integrate its economies this year into the Asan Economic Community or AEC.

In the Asean region, governance issues are aplenty. Among the 10-member states of Asean, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines are having major political hiccups these days.

Thailand is governed today by a monarchy-backed military junta. Former Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra was recently “indicted over a bungled rice subsidy scheme in the latest legal move against her family that could see her jailed for up to a decade.”Thailand’s junta-stacked government is also considering “launching a civil suit against Yingluck, the nation’s first female prime minister, to seek $18 billion in compensation for damages caused by the scheme introduced by her government.”Yingluck was “retroactively impeached by an assembly appointed by the junta which seized power from her elected government last May 2014.”

In Malaysia, incumbent “Prime Minister Najib Razak forestalled attempts last year by the opposition to engineer a change in government but faces a tough task to rebuild his 13-party coalition. The National Front which has ruled Malaysia for 52 years recorded its worst defeats in last year’s general election, losing control in five states and its once iron-clad two-thirds control of parliament.” Voters, especially the country’s “Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities, abandoned the National Front in favor of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s three-party opposition.” Although the political situation has stabilized, Malaysia’s highest court has “upheld opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction on sodomy charges, losing his last chance at an appeal.” Anwar was “arrested, and accused of sodomy and corruption, and sent to jail for six years before being released. Last March, he was sentenced to five years in jail, after being convicted of a new sodomy charge.”

Last Wednesday, Burma’s President Thein Sein has “declared a state of emergency and imposed martial law in a region near the Chinese border after more than 70 people were killed in fighting between the Burmese army and a rebel group.” The conflict is a setback for Burma’s semi-civilian government, which took power in 2011 after 49 years of military rule and is seeking to end hostilities with the many groups that have taken up arms since independence in 1948. Burma’s president “declared martial law for three months in a televised announcement, the first time military rule has been invoked under Myanmar’s 2008 constitution.”

And this is just one issue. There is still the constitutional hurdle for iconic and Nobel awardee Aung San Suu Kyi, which prevents her from being elected as president in Myanmar. The “clause in question bars anyone from becoming president if they have a spouse or child that is a citizen of a foreign country. Aung San Suu Kyi is banned because her two sons are British. Her late husband was also a British citizen.” The general elections is set for a date by the end of 2015.

Indonesia on the other hand, ushered in an outsider with the victory of Jokowi Widodo, the erstwhile mayor of Surakarta and later, governor of Jakarta. His first misstep was the nomination for the next National Police chief, Commander Gen. Budi Gunawan, who is suspected of committing graft by the Corruption Eradication Commission’s (KPK). But Widodo has also succeeded in having many firsts:

First time that the country’s president will have no ties to either the military or former president General Suharto, who ruled as dictator for more than three decades.

First in making unannounced visits to government offices to check if civil servants were working efficiently.

First in asking Facebook users to vote for the 34 persons who should join his Cabinet (dubbed the “People’s Choice for an Alternative Cabinet”), which aims to encourage volunteers and citizens to continue influencing the political movement started by Jokowi. During the first day of the poll, more than 18,000 online participants visited the website, which caused it to crash).

There many other Jokowi firsts.

Jokowi and Vice President Jusuf Kalla have laid out plans for “ambitious infrastructure projects, which include 15 airports, 24 seaports and 49 dams, as well as 3,258 meters of new railway, 2,650 kilometers of new roads, 1,000 kilometers of new highways (toll roads) and new power plants with a capacity of 35,000 megawatts (MW) – all within five years of their leadership.

He is aiming to drive up economic growth to a pace that was last seen in 1996, during which Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 7.6 percent.

Jokowi has been warned about potential missteps in his development agenda as his ambition to drastically increase Indonesia’s economic growth in a short period of time “might cause the country’s economy to ove rheat.” The President’s mission to reach an average annual economic growth of 7 percent during his five-year presidency “might expose the new government to problems related to governance and transparency, specifically in growth-generating infrastructure projects.”


And so the jitters come 2016 may just be misplaced because of all the political noises pervading in the system. The calls for resignation, for a transition commission and the likes are all meant to remove so called “tainted” politicians and yet there is no one in sight that has the wherewithal to launch a campaign, PH style. The system will just not allow a Jokowi because the economic elites will never support it. So let us be real!

We cannot overhaul a zero sum political system overnight that allows private armies, dynasties, jueteng and illegal drugs funded campaigns. The opposite of that would be oligarch funded candidates. But we can surely build a constituency that will help decent individuals already in the arena get up the political ladder, right? Oh, don’t worry, they are just a few.

We cannot shout to high heavens that automation has been good for our democracy because it has been good only to those in position who can set aside mandate and claim ours is the most clean elections in the region.

Jitters should be set aside because in reality, no country today is an island by itself. One cannot be in isolation mode. It’s just not possible these days. We have growth and that’s good at 6.1%. What we do not have is inclusive growth. What we do not have is stable supply of cheap power. What we do not have is agreement among political leaders for a long term infrastructure plan that must be shielded away from political horse trading. And what we seem unable to maintain is the rule of law.

Jitters? Who said nation building is easy? DotA seems to be best for some.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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