Duterte allies’ win reflects logic of Asian politics

By Xu Hailin Source:Global Times Published: 2019/5/15 20:28:40

Senators allied with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte are expected to gain a Senate majority, which many media outlets believe will pave the way for Duterte's further reforms.

The Philippine economy has been healthy since Duterte took office in 2016, realizing sustained rapid GDP growth. Filipinos favor the strong president who can make substantial achievements in pushing forward the economy. A similar desire is also common among people of other Asian countries.

Such a convincing win for Duterte reflects that strongman politics has solid ground in Asia and we can see the same in the elections of countries such as India, Thailand and Cambodia. People have known so many politicians who failed them, paying lip-service and sometimes bringing about serious problems like corruption. Therefore people wistfully want political strongmen, men of their word, to lead their countries. Having a strong stance and firmly practicing his policies, Duterte met people's expectations.

People also want reforms that can bring better development and living standards. It has been a general trend in Asia that people await capable strongmen to better push the reforms and brighten the future for their countries. What Asian people expected from elections was different from what some Western elites predicted and wished. 

Although many Asian countries adopted a Western-styled political system to govern, they are at the same time pursuing reforms in line with their national characteristics and different from the Western way. In the eyes of the West, strongmen like Duterte could possibly be described as a dictator, but their rise was in fact a reflection of what people really needed. 

Some Western officials and media always examine the changes that have taken place in Asia with their own political logic, which doesn't necessarily apply to Asian countries. Duterte's resounding win was a good example. Although some of his strong policies sparked controversy at home and abroad, Duterte has an activist character that was needed and highly lauded by Filipinos. 

Leaders like Duterte emerged amid a rise in nationalism, which will also constrain them in turn. It would be a harsh test for them to properly handle the contradictions between nationalism and reform. To reach a balance, they must rid themselves of the political narrative logic of the West and find a path that applies to Asia's reality. For some Asian countries, the most important thing is to pragmatically advance economic development under the rule of strongmen. This creates a wider space for cooperation with China. Duterte's firm stance of moving closer to China has promoted better infrastructure in the Philippines and helped address economic challenges. 

The West didn't believe such cooperation could endure, because in the traditional Western view, the political ecology of Asian countries that favor strongmen will cause problems due to corruption and lack of transparency in cooperation. However, the truth is that cooperation improved governance and is in line with international norms. The cooperation between effective governments with executive capability will benefit the implementation of many projects, which will eventually boost people's livelihoods and the economy.

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