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Duterte consolidates rule as daughter Sara the ‘real winner’

Another ally in the winning circle is outgoing provincial governor Imee Marcos, daughter of late dictator Ferdinand.

Duterte’s allied success will now set the stage for his eldest daughter Sara Duterte to seek the presidency in 2022.

Election campaign materials litter the street as the country's midterm elections draw to a close in Manila.

Election campaign materials litter the street as the country’s midterm elections draw to a close in Manila.Credit:AP

Sara, who succeeded Duterte as mayor of Davao, has in recent years positioned herself as the next in line, with the midterms serving as an opportunity for her to line up support within the ruling PDP–Laban party.

Rather than running as a senator, she stepped into the national spotlight by personally campaigning for senatorial candidates competing for the 12 available seats.

“Duterte is grooming his daughter to be his successor,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Centre in Washington. “If the elections go the way he wants, that would put his supporters in a stronger position when it comes to the next presidential elections.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping signs the guest book as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and daughter Sara Duterte look on last year.

Chinese President Xi Jinping signs the guest book as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and daughter Sara Duterte look on last year.Credit:EPA/AP

With his daughter being groomed as his successor, there is no reason for him to soften his style, although during her time as mayor she has proven to be a more moderate leader than her father.

Along with extending Duterte’s hard-line legacy, Sara’s ascendancy would offer security for a strongman leader who may find himself wading through legal troubles after his term expires, said University of the Philippines professor Gene Pilapil.

“The true winner of this election is Sara Duterte,” Pilapil said. “If 2019 is the dry run for 2022, it shows us that this is a Sara ball game.”

Sara, a lawyer, will get to keep her seat as mayor of her hometown after a landslide victory there. If elected in 2022, she would be the country’s third female president in 27 years.

Duterte has repeatedly dissuaded his daughter in seeking the nation’s top post, asserting that it would be better for her personally to stay on as mayor. “I am publicly warning her: the presidency will not educate you. It will just destroy you,” the Philippine leader said at a media interview on Monday.

Manila City public workers remove the campaign posters, mostly that of incumbent mayor and former president Joseph "Erap" Estrada after the vote.

Manila City public workers remove the campaign posters, mostly that of incumbent mayor and former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada after the vote.Credit:AP

The opposition is still hoping for one or two candidates to win seats in the Senate, considered as the last bastion of resistance to the 74-year-old leader’s controversial policies.

“We will wait for the final results,” said Senator Francis Pangilinan, campaign manager for the main opposition Liberal Party, noting that there were still three million votes uncounted in the unofficial tally. Official results are expected next week.

“We will remain vigilant to the end.”

Davao mayor Sara Duterte speaks on the campaign trail in February.

Davao mayor Sara Duterte speaks on the campaign trail in February.Credit:EPA/AP

Pangilinan added that whatever the results, the opposition would continue its struggle for justice, independence and prosperity against the Duterte administration.

Following such a resounding win, Duterte will be free to spend the next three years of his term pursuing an aggressive agenda that would limit the scope of the senate by federalising the government.

A proposed tax overhaul, meanwhile, would see cuts for large corporations in a bid to attract more investment to stimulate an otherwise lacklustre economy.

Since taking office in 2016, Duterte – like most regional strongmen – has harnessed growing geopolitical tensions to move closer to China, signing billions of dollars worth of investment projects. Observers say they expect more of the same in the final years of his administration.

“There is the need for better infrastructure. He’s addressed that by emphatically reaching out to China and that plays well,” said Kugelman. “He plays a good game addressing economic challenges.”

More than 18,000 government positions, including half of the 24-seat Senate and about 300 House of Representatives posts were elected in the midterm vote.

DPA, Bloomberg

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