Marcos vs Aquino, and past snap elections around the world
Similar presidential and parliamentary snap polls have resulted in a change in leadership, while others have solidified the incumbent’s hold on power
MANILA, Philippines – 29 years ago, on February 7, 1986, a housewife went up against a dictator in a snap presidential election.
Faced with mounting pressure here and abroad, then president Ferdinand Marcos called for the snap polls to prove that he still had the support of Filipinos.
Corazon “Cory” Aquino, wife of assassinated senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr, heeded public clamor and challenged Marcos for the presidency.
The strongman had been president since 1965 – from 1972 to 1981, the Philippines was under Martial Law, and it was a time when Marcos assumed near-absolute power. In June 1981, he won a fresh 6-year mandate in a lopsided election boycotted by the opposition.
The snap polls in 1986 were marred by reports of cheating, violence, and disenfranchisement of voters. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) declared Marcos the victor, but the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) said Aquino was the real winner, based on its own quick count.
The 1986 snap election was a turning point in Philippine history. What transpired two weeks later marked the end of the Marcos regime and the ascension of Aquino to the presidency via a peaceful People Power Revolution.
Similar presidential snap polls have recently taken place in other parts of the world. Some resulted in a change in leadership, as what happened in the Philippines in 1986, while others solidified the incumbent’s hold on power.
Sri Lanka, 2015
Incumbent: Mahinda Rajapaksa
Challenger: Maithripala Sirisena
This was the second early election called by Rajapaksa, who became president in 2005. He was seeking a third term following a constitutional amendment removing the two-term limit for presidents.
(In Sri Lanka, presidents have 6-year terms, but they can call an early or snap election after the 4th year. Rajapaska was re-elected in the snap polls he called in 2010.)
This time, his opponent was former health minister Maithripala Sirisena, who defected from the ruling party led by Rajapaksa, and stood as the main opposition candidate.
The incumbent Rajapaska was known for ending a decades-long conflict with the rebel Tamil Tigers in 2009, but critics said he has failed to bring about reconciliation with the Tamil minority since then. He was also hounded by allegations of corruption.
On January 8, 2015, Sirisena defeated Rajapaska in an election deemed too close to call. The polls happened just days before the scheduled visit of Pope Francis to the South Asian island nation.
ncumbent: Mikheil Saakashvili
Challengers: Levan Gachechiladze and 5 others
Saakashvili, the lead figure in widespread protests in 2003 dubbed the “Rose Revolution”, became president of the former Soviet republic after the resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze. He overwhelmingly won a 5-year term in the January 2004 elections.
But in late 2007, mass protests threatened his own presidency, following a serious corruption allegation levelled against him.
The peaceful protests that year turned violent shortly after the government declared a state of emergency. Saakashvili then called for a snap presidential election, set for January 2008.
Saakashvili survived the polls, garnering nearly 55% of the votes. He defeated fellow “Rose Revolution” participant Levan Gachechiladze, the candidate of the opposition coalition, and 5 other candidates.
Saakashvili’s second term ended in November 2013. He was barred from seeking a third term.
Parliamentary snap polls
Snap elections are normally held in countries with a parliamentary or semi-presidential system of government. The prime minister (PM) or president dissolves parliament and calls for new elections, usually to garner political advantage in settling national issues.
In December 2014, Japan went through an election two years ahead of schedule. Japanese PM Shinzo Abe called for it, so he could delay a scheduled consumption tax hike, following a series of weak economic indicators. Abe’s party was triumphant in the snap polls.
Greece also held snap elections on January 25, 2015, a month after parliament failed to elect a new president as required by its constitution.
The left-wing and anti-austerity Syriza party trumped the ruling party in the polls, with Alexis Tsipras sworn in as prime minister. Their victory was seen to set up a confrontation with the European Union over its plans to renegotiate the country’s massive bailout.
Other notable snap polls were those that took place in Thailand in April 2006, France in May to June 1997, and New Zealand in July 1984.
Opposition parties boycotted the 2006 snap polls in Thailand, giving then PM Thaksin Shinawatra and his party a landslide victory in parliament. But the constitutional court annulled the election results and called for new polls. Shortly thereafter, Thaksin was ousted in a military coup.
On the other hand, in France and New Zealand, the ruling parties suffered. French President Jacques Chirac’s strategy to defeat left-wing opposition parties by calling the 1997 snap legislative polls backfired.
Meanwhile, the 1984 New Zealand snap polls led to the victory of the opposition Labor Party and the defeat of then prime minister Robert Muldoon and the National Party.