The Long View
The possibility of a majority
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:15:00 09/14/2009
One defect of the present Constitution is that by abolishing the two-party system, it inadvertently deprived the country of something it has taken for granted about the presidency: that whoever wins it begins the term with a true majority vote. The best that we’ve been able to manage (in 1998 with Joseph Estrada) was a presidency that began with over 60 percent of the electorate having voted for somebody other than the winner.
Charles de Gaulle in his time, seeing a virtually ungovernable France, imposed a Constitution that established a strong presidency, which the French were inclined to favor and which fostered a multi-party system up to a point; but he also armed the presidency with the means to exercise its authority with an unquestionable majority mandate. He did this by putting in place run-off elections.
The Indonesians, as I’ve pointed out several times in the past, in the period when they were figuring out the post-Suharto government they’d have, looked to the Philippines for lessons on mistakes to avoid, and put in place a run-off election to do pretty much the same thing De Gaulle wanted. Many candidates could run; but if necessary, the top two would face off again, to ensure Indonesia would always have a president with a true majority mandate.
Writing for another paper, in 1992 and in 1998, I said there was something self-destructive about the coalition that had toppled Marcos: it perpetually failed to reunite and coalesce in the face of the dangers (narrowly-avoided) of a resurgence of the old KBL machine and its leaders and partners and other forces with no love for the, in many ways, bold experiments in democratic reform put in place under the present Constitution.
If Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. and Imelda Marcos had combined forces in 1992, there would have been a Loyalist restoration just eight years after the Edsa people power revolution. A similar coalition actually gained power in 1998 and the Edsa coalition, as it turned out, could only muster the numbers to react to events, not mold them.
Since the rules haven’t changed, the 2010 election runs the risk of producing another president who could start his/her term without a majority mandate. Until recently, this wasn’t just another possibility, it was a distinct probability. But the entry of Benigno Aquino III into the fray has changed that: a few weeks ago I pointed out that in 2006, Cory Aquino had quietly told some people that she felt someone had to die, for the country to be jolted out of the cynicism that had come to pervade the public’s attitude to their leaders, institutions and democracy.
She couldn’t have known at the time that that death would be hers; and as chronicled in this space and by others, it was the Great Remembering that took place as she fell ill and after her death which resulted in a Great Awakening, leaving the political experts astounded, and the political pros scrambling to make sense of a situation in which the citizenry was inspired to abandon their former passivity, and reclaim their preeminent role in the process.
Used to the politics of guns, goons and gold, and ads (the latter saturated all kinds of mass media while sidestepping the need for debate or for issues- or platform-based campaigning), the experts had counted on a relatively unengaged electorate that was profoundly cynical. In such a situation, machinery would count for everything. This, whether you’re talking about the entrenched Frankenstein coalition of the administration (with its access to the public purse and the armories of the military and police), or about those who believed they had command votes in certain sectors or private pockets so deep they could purchase political support and logistics.
The Aquino candidacy threatens an insurgency against this approach to electoral victory. The corresponding pressure for candidates outside the meager ranks of the Frankenstein coalition points to how there is a kind of public yearning for the pros to get their act together, literally, and coalesce so as to provide no excuse for the administration – or candidates who operate on similar lines of thinking – to maneuver a victory by massaging the results, which would be easier to do the more presidential candidates throw their hats in the ring.
But there is a corresponding danger to this: even as it becomes possible, once more, to have a presidency with a true majority mandate (something we last saw under normal circumstances in 1969 and 1986), there is the undemocratic temptation to hector and bully specific candidates to drop their bids. It is crucial at this point, to emphasize that the right of candidates to run for the presidency can and will be respected. No one should dictate terms to others.
The dividing line is not 2001, it is 2005. The unifying factors are a presidential candidate who already has integrity and honesty, and who is pledged to an administration marked by transparency and accountability.
But to put the cart before the horse – to begin by being hostile to particular candidates, for no other reason than past grudges within the ranks of the opposition, when the only grudge that should count is against the administration and its unrepentant collaborators for so gravely damaging our institutions – only serves the interests of the political camps that want to keep the 2010 elections to the low level they were before Aquino’s entry into the fray: a battle of machines and not people.
Unity can be fostered if this fundamental democratic right is recognized and respected. Unity is possible on the basis of a common platform and a guiding set of political principles that can unite candidates with volunteers, leaders with followers, according to common goals. In this sense, policies will and should trump personalities.