An academic study conducted about a decade ago by an independent research outfit (Institute for Political Electoral Reform) noted that Filipino voters tend to pick candidates based on their popularity and public image. Of least consideration is their policy agenda or that of the party they represent. It is the reality we have dealt with throughout the ages. We have been the outcome of our past decisions, bad or worse.

These observations tend to conform with the results of recent presidential and senatorial surveys conducted by groups like SWS and Pulse Asia. In the presidential race, Davao mayor Sara Duterte remains a runaway choice for president. But come to think of it, nobody really knows what she stands for, as she has never articulated them, nor what she will do if she changes her mind and plucks the presidency.

In the local setting, six candidates are vying for the governorship. A total of close to 70 individuals will be contesting only 15 seats, from the top executive post of governor down to the provincial board. The proportion is about the same in the city, which is a separate electoral arena.

There are no clear frontrunners yet on both local races, in the absence of any independent surveys, but the administration ticket of incumbent governor Jose Alvarez and city mayor Lucilo Bayron are expected to be in the drivers’ seat, based on established trends. The IPER study also pointed out that political organization, which is inherent to the party in power, always has the advantage.

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Next year’s elections is a critical exercise, insofar as it will define the kind of governance the country will have as it tries to emerge or survive the raging pandemic. Like it or not, the leaders the electoral body politic will select will play key roles in accomplishing this task. It is almost predictable how the election will turn out, given our predilection for popularity instead of values, track record instead of promises, and capability in lieu of campaign machinery.

And as always, the quality of leadership we get is what we are as a people.

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