At 2pm this afternoon Ali Atienza conceded the race for Mayor of Manila to his rival, Senator and former Mayor Fred Lim.
The see-saw battle was rich in symbolism. It spawned a blog and a documentary, provisionally entitled “Dinosaurs on the Baywalk: A Manila Election”, is on the way.
The Atienza camp has always been confident that its “machinery” (surely the word of the 2007 elections) would carry the day. Only last week a large survey of 9,000 respondents by Manila Research Associates had Ali a long way ahead:
Ali Atienza has 32.8 percent (3,019), Senator Lim 26.9 percent (2,482), Vice Mayor Lacuna 23.5 percent (2,180), Bacani 6.2 percent (754)and Alsua 3.4 percent (313), undecided 5.2 percent (463).
The fact that Ali has already conceded, with only one fourth of the precincts counted, shows how wildly wrong the survey must have been.
Following the Joey Hizon’s defeat of Ali’s older brother Kim in the congressional race in 2004, the result has blown a big hole in incumbent mayor Lito Atienza’s plan of establishing a political dynasty in Manila.
It’s too early to determine exactly why the Manila electorate voted the way it did, but these seem to me to be some of the reasons for the Atienzas’ defeat.
Lito Atienza was closely allied with the unpopular administration, while Lim was a member of the opposition. This must have had some bearing on the result, but if GMA’s claim to have won “almost a clean sweep of local elections” is right, this implies that the unpopularity of the national government has had little impact at the local level.
The son is not the father
Ali Atienza came across as a likeable but rather naïve candidate, who would be completely reliant on his father. In retrospect, the way the Atienza camp shielded Ali from the press – allowing almost no interviews, debates or press conferences – was a mistake. Ali himself confirmed his place in his father’s shadow when he said that his first act as mayor would be to appoint Lito as senior adviser. A candidate has to define himself – Ali’s image was just too bland.
Opposition to Lito Atienza
We’ll never know what would have happened if term limitations had not prevented Lito Atienza from standing for re-election. However, I have a feeling that he might have been in difficulty. The very poor, street dwellers and the parking attendants who have been muscled out by City Hall employees, have little good to say about him. Even the average poor are unlikely to say that Atienza’s years at City Hall have led to measurable improvements in their lives.
The contrast between the fanatical loyalty of Mayor Binay’s Makati supporters and the hakot feel of the Atienza baywalk rallies is stark. Of what use are beer joints on the baywalk that the poor cannot afford compared with the medical and educational support enjoyed by Makati residents?
No doubt Lito still has his supporters, but he has also pissed off other Manila residents, with his omnipresent “big brother” posters; prohibitions on family planning; alleged corrupt procurement, including the Roxas Boulevard streetlamps; the illegal taxation of businesses; the destruction of sites of historical and architectural interest like the Jai Alai building and Arroceros Forest Park; and the noise and tackiness of the baywalk.
And Lim, why did Manila turn again to Dirty Harry?
Lim is a pretty serious type guy. He’s not making out that Manila’s problems can be waved away by a few fireworks, that’s for sure. He also has a long (and controversial) record of public service -- voters here go for that. He has presence – it’s a little spooky sometimes, but the aura is there. He was just a more grounded candidate than Ali.
Law and order
In any urban constituency anywhere in the world a promise to impose discipline is going to attract many voters. If you had your cell phone snatched last week, who would you trust to get back for you – Fred or Ali?
Shabu remains a major social issue in the poorer parts of the city. Lim’s infamous marking the doors of suspected drug pushers in his last administration had an air of vigilantism about it, but at least people felt that the problem was being addressed.
Born poor in Tondo, self-made, hard school – Fred Lim has the dust of Manila ground into his bones. Beside the cop from the Western Police District, Ali just looked like a Hawaii parvenu.
One final point on the Manila result. Fred Lim is an incumbent opposition senator, elected in 2004. He therefore has three years of his Senate term still to run. As I understand it, his election means that the senate will be one Senator short for the next three years. So Lim’s victory in Manila is a double edged sword for the opposition – at the local level they have got rid of one of Gloria’s most fervent supporters (remember the way Lito Atienza drummed up support for Charter Change?), but in the Senate they have lost a crucial vote.