The Obama effect and the Filipino youth
by: Harvey S. Keh
The Manila Times - November 7,2008
So it’s President-elect Barack Obama.
Before the elections, I watched a CNN feature story on the impact of the youth vote. According to the report millions of young Americans decided to register and practice their right to choose between Democratic Party Candidate Ba-rack Obama or Republican Party Candidate John McCain. Analysts said that the opinion polls showed that these young people, many of them first-time voters, would most likely vote for Obama.
A major reason for Obama’s strong support from the youth is his charisma and his clear message of change in American politics. Another reason is that Obama is able to speak the language of the youth by making use of the Internet particularly social networking sites such as Twitter and My Space in getting his message across to people. When Obama first declared that he would run for President, many people didn’t even give him a chance to win against more experienced and well-funded former first lady, Senator Hillary Clinton. I have always told people that Obama’s strength as a candidate is a product of a confluence of events wherein many Americans were very dissatisfied with the performance of current President George W. Bush and thus, they were looking for a new symbol of hope and change in their government.
If Bush had done a decent job as president, I don’t think a first-time senator such as Obama would not have had a decent shot at the presidency.
It is largely because the youth came out strong for Senator Obama that America now has its first African-American president-elect.
In some regard, we are in a similar situation here in the Philippines where surveys by the SWS and Pulse Asia have consistently shown that majority of Filipinos are unhappy with the performance of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. As we all know, her administration has been accused of being one of the most corrupt in recent history. Thus, it is no wonder her trust ratings continue to be at an all-time low. This has led many groups such as the Movement for Good Governance and Convergence to think already about the 2010 national elections wherein we will be electing our next president. As in the just finished elections in America, the Filipino youth will play a major role if it chooses to. The 2010 elections will be the first time that majority of the Filipino voters will come from those who are aged between 18 and 40 years old. The candidate who can muster this sector will stand a good chance of claiming victory. So far, there seems to be no presidentiable who has the Obama effect on our youth, an effect that will generate excitement, a sense of hope and proactive involvement from young Filipino voters.
In my conversations with my students and volunteers, they tell me that they can’t see anyone among the present crop of candidates who reflect the values of good governance, ethical leadership and genuine change in our country. Many of them even told me that they are not inclined to vote since they feel that whoever will win among the present crop will just be the same. With this situation, there is a growing need now for alternative candidates who can symbolize a clear message of hope and change for our country.
Many people have told me that an upright and principled leader can never become president because by being upright he is not corrupt and thus, does not have enough funds to wage a presidential campaign which political experts estimate to be at least 1 billion pesos.
The Obama effect has shown us that by harnessing the power of young people, an alternative candidate may actually be able to have a fighting chance against well-entrenched politicians.
As the Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and good Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo has always said in his speeches at our Kaya Natin! Campus tours, “Ang prob-lema ng Pilipino ay parati tayong bumuboto dun sa alam nating mananalo, dapat siguro bumoto na tayo hindi dun sa mananalo kundi dun sa tama.” In addition to this, Mayor Robredo tells us that by choosing the right leader for our country, we can expect the right basic services to be delivered to every Filipino.
I think that the time is ripe now for Filipinos especially the youth to take control of our country’s future and finally find that right leader who will put the interests of majority of Filipinos above his or her own self-interest. If there is one good thing the Arroyo administration has taught us, it is that we should think critically and decide carefully before we vote for our next president.
[Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship for the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government (ASOG).]