Thursday, February 25, 2010

ELEKSYON 2010: Illusions of Philippine Democracy, Part 2

Party System in the Philippines

Every election season, we get the chance to reflect on the many flaws in our democratic system. In a previous article, I discussed the need to look closely at the shameless monopoly of power of certain families in the Philippines. In this article, let us see where we are in terms of our country’s maturity in political parties.

The Philippines currently has a multiparty system. This means that the system is open to more than two political parties that compete among each other in putting candidates into office. Theoretically, a multiparty system is believed to achieve proportional representation. Since each party is thought to possess certain ideologies and interests that are not given attention by other parties, we are almost assured that each sector of the society is represented in the legislative and/or in the executive branches thereby creating a government that addresses to the particular needs of every represented individual.

The advantage of a multi-party system is that it allows everyone with the proper organizational set-up and resources and proper intentions to form a party that will carry its members beliefs and aspirations as well as draft programs of action that will be beneficial to all concerned. A look at the party system of other countries would reveal a high number of nations also having the same feature as ours. Even America and England, which many people mistake as countries with a two-party system, are actually practicing a unique feature of a multi-party system. Both countries stated above have what we call a multi-party, two-party dominant system. (But for simplicity’s sake we shall continue referring to this as a two-party system) This means, that while these countries laws allow its citizens to form as many sound political parties as possible, there are only two dominant parties for both, the Democratic and the Republican parties for the United States, and the Labour and Conservative parties for the England. Although lesser known parties, like the Reform Party for the US and the Liberal Democratic Party for England, also field in candidates for president or prime minister during national elections, only the two dominant parties can actually win. Not once in the history of both countries have smaller parties won elections.

The 1987 freedom constitution was drafted to ensure that no repeat of Ferdinand Marcos one-party system (i.e. the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan), and thus one-man show, would occur. Thus, at the moment, our constitution allows as many political parties and party-lists to exist and most of all field candidates for elective posts. Since the 1992 national elections, we have seen many political parties coming out and fielding candidates for different positions, all created for the purpose of representation and ideological reasons. After almost 2 decades of practicing a multi-party system, can we truly say that our political system has indeed improved? Or is a return to a two-party system better and more sensible?

Our political parties, however, are far from reaching this theoretical purpose. Many political analysts criticize our political parties as being homogenous, ephemeral, and lacking in political discipline. Our parties are observed to be extensions of political leaders and loyalties are attributed to these politicians rather than to the institutions. These explain why many of our politicians get out of their party cocoons and start to flutter with butterfly wings from one party to another during election seasons.

It has been said time and again that Philippine political parties are essentially non-ideological vehicles for personal and factional political ambition. Many of our current political parties lack coherent political programs, and they generally champion conservative social positions and avoided taking stands that might divide the electorate. Each party attempts to appeal to all regions, ethnic groups, and social classes, and foster national unity by never championing one sector or group. Most of all, politicians switch capriciously back and forth from one party to another, usually switching when their party is losing power. These parties exist only to satisfy particular demands, not to promote general programs.

Two party systems, like that of UK, CANADA, and US, tend to eliminate such problems. In such a system, there exist two major parties that share the votes of the electorate. The party that possesses most seats in the legislative could easily produce a majority vote to create its policies. Although a two-party system is not bereft of any other parties, minor parties rarely prevent the two major parties from gaining most seats in the congress. Thus, a vote for a third party is usually a lost vote. The Philippines, which adopts a single ballot system, is more conducive for a two-party system because balloting only happens once and the party who receives the greatest number of votes win. Hence, it is logical that each party tries to acquire the greatest number of supporters it could have and the best way to do that is to form a coalition with other parties.

Let us take for an example a district that has 100,000 conservative voters and 60,000 radical voters. If these conservative voters are divided into 4 conservative parties, each party would only get approximately 25,000 votes thereby enabling the candidate of the radical party, with his 60,000 votes, of winning. A two-party system is also beneficial in creating stability in the government. It prevents the occurrence of deadlocks and ensures the passing of urgent bills because it is easy for the majority party to get a majority vote in Congress. Deadlocks often occur when politicians from different parties prevent the advancement of a bill sponsored by an opponent party.

A two party system is also a better way of increasing the funds of each party. Contributions made by organizations and businessmen are concentrated on two major parties only. Candidates, in turn, would utilize party funds and spend less of their personal wealth for campaigns. This would tend to diminish corruption in the government because the amount of money which a candidate has to get from the government in replacement of the money he spent for campaigning would be lessened as well.

Public focus is narrowed when there are only two major contending parties. This means each party would then become conscious of its reputation, in fear that a misconduct made by one candidate would create a big impact on the perception of the voters and affect the party image as a whole. This would result to a decrease in political turn-coatism and increase in party discipline. Lastly, a two-party system provides effective integration of the different interests of the different sectors. Because the two parties would be subject to tough competition, it would articulate the sheets of interests among sectors into one umbrella, ensuring that the interests of these sectors are represented. Uncommon ideas are integrated thereby making it more common and in line with the thrust of each party. Proportional representation is an illusion in the multiparty system because losing parties with unique interests are not really represented in the government.

While other nations make real issues the main point of contention in the electoral fight, our candidates are still in the process of mudslinging and bragging who is more sincere and apt for the job of running the country. Almost two decades ago, the framers of our constitution decided to allow as many political parties to participate in the political exercise to ensure that every citizen’s interests are well represented. But, far from achieving the good of a multi-party system, our country’s political system has been plunged into a circus every electoral season, making politics even more incoherent to the average voters.

ADDENDUM. Below are the histories of the party affiliations of the major Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates for the 2010 elections. Notice that among the candidates, only Noynoy and MAR have remained consistent in their party affiliations.

Party Affiliation of Presidential Candidates:

Party Affiliation of Vice-Presidential Candidates:

1 comment:

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