Candidates Win Unopposed, But Who Loses? (Part 1 of 3)
The elections on May 13, 2019 in the Philippines saw a number of candidates who ran without opponents. Data from the Commission on Elections show that only one candidate ran in 861 (five percent) of elective posts. All elective local positions had a share of unopposed candidates ranging from 23 percent for the position of city vice mayors -- the highest, to one percent in the case of city council members. (See table below.)
What is the issue? Unopposed elections do not give voters a choice. It is a subversion of the will of the voter and of democratic elections, which calls for at least two, preferably equally qualified, candidates.
A number of conditions and situations could explain why some candidacies are unopposed, and why some contests are more unopposed than others.
The Constitution allows local officials, including members of the House of Representatives (Lower House of Congress), to be elected for three consecutive terms. An incumbent, especially one who has been elected twice for the same position and again going for a third and final term could be difficult to unseat. A candidate who is running in place of a close-relative who has just finished her/his final term, is another case of one who is difficult to go against in an election.
Candidates who are related or in the same clan and are running for different elective posts in a province could consolidate and orchestrate their campaign to deter others from either contesting or unseating any of them. Running against a networked campaign could be tough.
Yet another ploy is political parties or groups cutting deals by assigning their respective candidates to run in different jurisdictions or districts so as not to oppose each other.
The cost of competing in an election is another barrier to having a true contest. Costs such as for production of propaganda materials and advertising on traditional and new media; salaries for staff, campaigners, and political consultants; and the cost of maintaining offices in various locations; all put together could be prohibitive. These costs could escalate for someone going against a multi-term candidate who is more entrenched. So some would-be opponents would rather sit out an election, leaving the post uncontested, and compete when the odds of winning are better, like when an incumbent exhausts his/her term.
Where are the most unopposed contests? Maguindanao recorded the most number of uncontested races with 31 percent (99 out of the 326) of the elective posts in the province. Among its 36 municipalities, 36 percent (or 13 positions) for mayors, and 39 percent (or 14 positions) for vice mayors had no opponents; and 25 percent (or 72) of the 288 municipal council posts were also unchallenged. A municipal council is composed of eight members. A contest is unchallenged if there are also just eight candidates vying for the eight posts..
The provinces with the most uncontested elections after Maguindanao are: Cavite with 41; Ilocos Sur with 38; Bukidnon with 29; Lanao del Norte with 26; Negros Occidental with 25; Abra with 23; Isabela, Leyte and Sorsogon with 21 each; Northern Samar, Sultan Kudarat, and Sulu with 20 each.
In the contest for district representatives to Congress, Cavite had the most number of unopposed candidacies, which is four out of eight. Negros Occidental followed with three, and Laguna, Quezon Provinces, Davao Oriental, and Davao del Sur with two each. There are 22 other provinces where this post had only one candidate.
On average, there are 2.6 candidates for each seat for district representative to Congress. In 38 percent of the races (94 contests) there were two candidates, 28 percent (69) had three candidates; 11 percent (28) had four, and there were five or more in seven percent of the races.
There were no opponents in the gubernatorial and vice gubernatorial races in Apayao, Northern Samar and Davao Occidental and Davao Oriental. There were also no challengers in the gubernatorial contests in Compostela Valley, Ilocos Norte, Quirino and Tarlac. Candidates in the vice gubernatorial races in Bataan, Cavite, Leyte, Negros Occidental, Pampanga, Rizal, and Sultan Kudarat had no opponents.
Negros Occidental topped the most number of unopposed city vice mayoral candidates -- five out of 13 . Mayors also ran unopposed in four of the cities in the province.
From the perspective of the law and the voter. A lone candidate would only need one vote in order to win. Philippine election laws allow this since all elective contests are plurality contests (also known as first-past-the-post) or whoever gets the most votes wins.
Voters, though, still cast their vote even if a candidate is the only one running and even if they are not actually given any choices. Perhaps a key question to voters is: In the case of dealing among parties to not run against each other, did voters know that they have been gamed? Would they still have voted for a lone candidate had they known that it was a deliberate ploy for the contestants to deprive them of choices?