There was once a man who won the presidency of his country by claiming to be a champion of the poor. He taunted the rich elites, welcomed their insults and promised to end corruption and injustice. During his campaign, he put on a show where he sang, dance and cracked jokes -- usually against the oligarchs.
When he won, he packed groceries into bags with his name and gave them to the poor. He also packed the government with cronies and family members and gave them the treasury. In a few months they plundered up to $100 million.
When he raised fuel and electricity prices by 300 per cent, the enraged populace turned against him. Two million people staged a nationwide strike shouting "thief! thief!" Congress impeached him, declaring him mentally incapable. He barricaded himself for a day or two then decided to flee to Venezuela.
Abdala Bucaram, who gloried in the name "El Loco", was president of Ecuador for barely six months, from August 1996 to February 1997. Among the things he did to live up to his name: he cut a CD called "Crazy Man in Love" then promoted it by dancing with scantily-clad women to "Jailhouse Rock" in Spanish, pouring a bottle of mineral water over his head while singing. He serenaded the International Miss Banana contest winner. He invited Ecuadorean Lorena Bobbit, who had slashed off her American husband's penis, to lunch at the palace.
Segue to President Joseph Estrada. Three years ago he won the election by claiming to be the "champion of the masses" and an enemy of the oligarchs, campaigning with a bevy of movie stars. He cultivated the image of a tough guy with a golden heart, not too smart, but then where had smart politicians gotten the Philippines. As one Manila taxi driver explained just before the elections: "Well, we've had smart presidents. Now let's try stupid."
Erap himself stressed this aspect continuously. Last year he told the press, "you can call me bobo (stupid), just don't call me corrupt." Now he sits beleaguered in his Palace, awaiting an impeachment trial that could show he was both corrupt and bobo enough to be caught out.
Perhaps he wonders how everything could go so wrong so quickly. At the start of this October nobody would have given odds that by November the President would be impeached by Congress. How swiftly things have moved from "Erap for the Poor" to "People of the Philippines versus Joseph Estrada."
Ecuador and Abdala seem a long way in distance and time from the Philippines and Estrada, but it's closer than Erap might think. The lesson of El Loco's administration, one analyst says, lies in the consequence of a people voting with their hearts and not their minds. Sounds familiar, right?