Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute
Political contestation is one of the major components of a democratic set-up. It involves challenging the position of incumbent and out-going leaders of government at the national, congressional, and local levels. In particular, electoral contestation has been recognized as the regular form of political contest and has been recognized to represent electoral democracy.
In turn, electoral democracy represents a critical strand of people’s participation and underscores the values of good governance and social inclusion.
When people participate in elections to choose their candidates, a significant part of their political rights is actualized. More so, their participation signifies their stake in the future of the country and their communities. In this respect, the voter turnout in the Philippines has historically been higher than those in other Asian countries and Western countries alike.
It is in this vibrant political culture of electoral participation where Filipinos excel and demonstrate their political behavior with passion. The determinants vary and encompass a wide array of reasons—political affiliation, class, gender (sex and gender orientation), political beliefs, ideology, religion, familial ties, business, personal conviction, etcetera.
Further, electoral contests also provide a particular venue to reproduce or challenge an existing status quo. In this sense, the spirit of citizenship is highly demonstrated. On the one hand, the dynamics of political struggles is revealed from a structural perspective. On the other hand, the element of agency is likewise revealed where individual, independent and organized voters vie for their respective choice of candidates.
However, the political and social benefits that elections bring into society have been translated into minimal achievements and the process has continuously been converted into a political charade. Three practices are suspect and they are reasons behind the lurking general animosity that the people have with regard to elections.
First, the rule of “guns, goons, and gold” has historically been identified whenever the election period comes. Political rivalry is represented by violence, which involves assassinations and harassment. Alongside, money is rampantly being used to buy votes during the campaign period and especially on eve of elections.
Second, the electoral contest has been very vulnerable to the manipulations of the elites, represented by the dominance of political dynasties in every province of the country. Inclusion, in this context, becomes tokenism and participation is translated into exclusion.
Third, corruption also mars the electoral practice. This encompass violence and vote buying, and the misuse of public funds. In the latest study of the Transparency International (2018), the Philippines ranked 111th out of the 180 countries in the Corruption Perception Index. It is surprising that from a high of 85th place, our country has slid down by 16 ranks in just a matter of 4 years. After two and a half years under the new presidency, the much celebrated campaign promise and pronouncements against corruption have yet to materialize.
In light of the foregoing, Stratbase ADR Institute’s project, Democracy Watch advocates for better governance and inclusiveness. In line with this, we call on the Filipinos to exercise their right to vote in May 2019. But beyond the physical act of voting, there is a need to educate oneself on the history and advocacies of candidates, to look beyond the feel-good statements and analyze their actions instead.
Democracy Watch also launched its Youth Alliance—an alliance of student governments and leaders of universities and colleges in Metro Manila to create an avenue for voter education and debate among young leaders.
Increased popular participation makes it more difficult for political elites to manipulate democratic institutions. We must eradicate electoral corruption—the mother of all corruption—and endeavor to eliminate systemic corruption in the Philippines. We must advocate program-based and policy-intensive political discourse so that we will know the right candidates to vote for.
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