Philippine left expects boost from election

The Philippine radical left wing, both legal and underground, expects to benefit substantially from today's presidential election. The left anticipates fraud, violence, and deepening disillusionment among Filipinos with the electoral process. It also sees itself emerging as the most determined opposition to President Ferdinand Marcos -- and thus picking up more supporters from the political middle ground.

``After the election,'' said a member of the Communist Party, ``it will be our ball game.''

Opposition presidential candidate Corazon Aquino spoke Wednesday of her fears of further political polarization, saying that the election might be the ``last chance'' to defeat Mr. Marcos by electoral means.

Mrs. Aquino's defeat would be something of a relief to the left wing, because an opposition victory would have, to them, the adverse effect of strengthening the Philippine political center. And Aquino's call for a six-month cease-fire in the insurgency war, to allow for negotiations with the Communist Party, would put the communists in the unusual position of having to respond to an event instead of initiate one.

Moreover, Aquino and a number of her advisers are strongly anticommunist -- although President Marcos has made a major campaign issue of Aquino's alleged links with the communist underground.

``We should not overestimate the [negative] consequences of an Aquino victory,'' said the communist organizer, ``but it will slow us down a little and force us to rethink.''

The election campaign has been a difficult time for the left. There have been intense and sometimes acrimonious debates within the Communist Party over the issue of participation or nonparticipation in the electoral campaign.

Some underground leaders, including imprisoned Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison, advocated limited participation in the electoral campaign -- not to support Aquino, but to publicize the Communist Party's own political views. That was shelved in favor of a boycott.

The boycott position has also been adopted by the legal moderate left, represented by the mass organization called Bayan, the Tagalog-language acronym for ``New Nationalist Alliance.'' Bayan's boycott has caused it to lose several of its best-known leaders. Two veteran nationalists, former Sens. Lorenzo Tanada and Ambrosio Padilla, have both taken an active part in the Aquino campaign. So have a number of Bayan's regional organizers.

In an effort to minimize strain between radical and more moderate political allies, the left announced that on election day it will field ``antifraud'' teams to document irregularities in polling.

Communist Party officials also say that their armed wing, the New People's Army, will not attempt to disrupt the elections. In the past, election day activities have included the snatching of ballot boxes. (Guerrillas say they make good medicine chests.)

Government officials say the left will disrupt elections, and the armed forces are on full alert. But the strongly anticommunist armed forces reform group, Aquino supporters, and the far left all say that insurgent attacks on polling places are more likely to be the work of government supporters intent on reducing the turnout or causing confusion in opposition areas.

Once the election is over, the leftist organizers say, they will swing into action. Bayan officials expect their movement to play a major role in any popular protests against electoral fraud.

``Only Bayan has the determination, motivation, and conditioning to meet the Marcos government head on,'' a Bayan organizer said.

Support for mass demonstrations would help rebuild bridges with the middle-ground opposition. The left badly wants to do that, because it plans to field candidates in the local government elections scheduled for this May.

The election of local officials sympathetic to the underground would provide cover for covert military activity and would further consolidate the growing influence that the left already has in many parts of the country.

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