Lifting term limits won’t end political dynasties

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute

The discussion on political dynasties has been too focused on their impact on society, but we should equally emphasize the factors why they exist.

Centuries have passed, and yet political dynasties still remain and hamper real development in countries around the world.

Ronald Mendoza, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, pointed out in his study, “Term Limits and Political Dynasties: Unpacking the Links,” that term limits and dynasts are corelated. However, lifting term limits will not necessarily eliminate political dynasties.

The antidynasty provision in the 1987 Constitution is intricately linked to political, economic and social reforms, and whose implementation lays down the foundation for an antidynasty law. “Simply removing term limits at this point,” said Mendoza, “will secure the political foothold of fat political dynasties. Real reforms should be focused not on removing term limits, but on further strengthening those reforms that should have accompanied it — including enhancing competition in the political sphere by supplying alternative leaders, strengthening political parties and regulating political dynasties.”

Dynastic rule, he added, worsens poverty incidence and relegates the disempowered masses to the sidelines of development. From 2007-2016, the average dynastic share in elections has shown a disturbing trend: 81 percent of governors, 78 percent of congressmen, 69 percent of mayors, and 57 percent of vice mayors came from powerful political clans.

The challenge posed by the persistence of political dynasties necessitates a three-pronged response.

First, social and economic inequalities should be consistently and evenly addressed by the government regardless of who is in power.

Second, the electorate must be educated on how populist politics encourages the culture of mendicancy and gives rise to strong leaders with a misplaced messiah complex. Encouraging that mindset only creates a population looking for a strongman patron that would provide their needs.

Third, the electorate needs to be judicious, especially in next month’s midterm elections. Voters should shun populist candidates and vote for those who have solid and clear plans in addressing the country’s problems.

If dynasts are democratically elected, this simply suggests that there is something very wrong in the electoral system. As Pulse Asia president Ronnie Holmes pointed out, the reforms needed are complex in such a way that changes in the electoral system point to the radical need to amend some provisions in the 1987 Constitution.

Nevertheless, dynastic governance is a stumbling block to development. It continues to constrict social, political and economic spaces, and deprives others of their right to political participation.

To lift millions from poverty means giving people a fighting chance to break away from the medieval practice of patronage politics, and empowering them through education. This will provide them a chance to contribute more meaningfully to social development.



This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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