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Sep 21

The Explainer: Bandwagon

Tonight, we’re going to begin an extended series on the presidency as we all prepare to make our choice for 2010. And we’re going to begin by tackling a word you often hear in the headlines –bandwagon. Every candidate likes to portray himself as larger than life –a cause that has suddenly become fashionable or popular.

But if you ask your elders, they might tell you presidents used to come and go, but at least one thing remained: their parties. Today, however, parties spring up like mushrooms for elections and just as quickly wither away. Why is this so, and why do our presidents prove incapable of building parties that outlast them?

A Japanese scholar might just have the answer, so join the bandwagon of finding out. I’m Manolo Quezon. The Explainer.

 

I.

 

As the President enters what’s traditionally considered the lame-duck period of her presidency, she’s taken to trying not make things difficult for her partymates. In London, she didn’t go out to eat, ordering room service instead. It may be more expensive to order in, but she avoided the paparazzi.

The reason of course is that whatever the law says, the presidential election season has begun, and for a nation deeply poor, candidates now have to tighten their belts to hide their bellies to convince the public that like GMA, they care.

This Philippines Free Press editorial cartoon from 1922 shows that the populism we’ll be seeing play out in the presidential campaign wasn’t quite there back when we didn’t have national elections. Then, various party leaders and faction chiefs courted the votes of other party leaders, to form coalitions in the legislature.

In a sense, elections were easier because all the parties were for independence, and all the parties were at odds with the Americans, who occupied the executive department.

When we finally had our first national presidential election in 1935, the different parties formed a coalition because they realized that fighting the Americans was one thing, but forming a responsible government was another.

This is why, basically from 1935 to 1941, we had a one party government. With independence assured, in the first place any party that had opposed independence was destroyed, politically.

And with decades of practical experience in winning elections, the coalition that negotiated independence could look forward to wheeling and dealing to stay in power indefinitely.

The experiences of India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries that achieved independence peacefully like ours, suggests that if World War II hadn’t interrupted our political development, we would probably have had one party government for an uninterrupted period of fifty years or more.

But World War II took place, and where once there was a unified single party, the division of the country on the question of siding with Fascism and Japan or Democracy and the United States, and the decision of most experienced politicians to stay in government even if the government served the Japanese, alienated the politicians from the public. This gave an opportunity for those who’d become guerrillas or been nobodies before the War, to make a bid for power; the old system broke in half and in a sense, accidentally, the two party system was born.

The prewar ruling party, with almost forty years of unbroken dominance at all levels of government from 1907, the year it was founded, until it lost the presidency in 1946, was the Nacionalista Party. Its postwar existence would find it a protectionist party, that is, it preferred to protect domestic business from outside competition.

A splinter group of the Nacionalistas contested the 1946 elections and won, and became the Liberal Party. It was the party of free trade, of what we would, today, call globalization, encouraging open markets.

While both NP and LP were able to establish a nationwide machinery, composed of leaders that rose through the ranks, and followers who mainly stayed loyal to their party even when their leaders didn’t, every presidential campaign from 1946 on saw candidates trying to put together coalitions that would give the impression they were unstoppable. And in the Cold War era this included giving the impression the candidate enjoyed the support of Uncle Sam.

But just as in 1935 there was a three-man race for the presidency, from time to time, such as in 1965, the traditional two party system would face a challenge from upstart third parties. They usually did badly, but it showed that an increasing number of reform-minded citizens, such as the ones who supported Raul Manglapus’ PPP, wanted more choices than that offered by the usual NP-LP candidates.

What’s remarkable, though, was that under the two-party system, there was a chance for a kind of continuity both among party administrations and within the parties themselves. Manuel Roxas, elected in 1946, died in 1948 after only about a year and a half in office; his Vice-President was elected in 1949 to a full term, making the first Liberal Party period in office nine years. Then the Nacionalistas under a former Liberal, Magsaysay, were in power from 1953 to 1961 or eight years.

In neither case did the ruling party vanish when it lost the presidency. The Liberals, led by former Speaker Jose Yulo, for example, challenged Nacionalista President Carlos P. Garcia in 1957.

And in fact, for the first time ever, the country elected an oppositionst Vice-President, Yulo’s Liberal running mate, Diosdado Macapagal in 1957.

By 1961, Macapagal, denied a job in Garcia’s cabinet, won the presidency in his own right; but the Liberal restoration was brief, only four years.

One reason the parties survived even when they lost the presidency, was the way the premartial law political system was set up. Presidents and congressmen served for four years, and could run for reelection. Senators served six years but eight out of 24 senators were elected every two years. So a party could look forward to contesting the senate during the mid-term election in any administration, and only had to wait for years in the wilderness to reclaim the Palace –while presidents could keep allies together by pushing them to work for his reelection.

In 1965 and 1969, another former Liberal, Ferdinand Marcos, was elected and reelected president; the country had another eight years of a Nacionalista administration; but the 1971 mid-term senatorial elections showed that the NP, under a president who couldn’t run for a third term, were in trouble. The Liberals swept the Senate.

The answer to this seemingly inevitable loss of power came on September 23, 1972. In the early morning hours, military trucks rolled out, with soldiers with orders to shut down the media, arrest opposition politicians and student leaders, in order to implement martial law. Marcos then cleverly announced he was dating his proclamation of martial law to September 21 –the first big lie in what became a regime of lies, which ended with yet another gassy lie- that the Great Dictator had won the 1986 Snap Elections. Marcos fell, after 14 years of dictatorship.

But this raised a problem which we’ll cover when we return –once the tyrant falls, what should replace it?

 

II.

 

Earlier we saw how presidents might come and go, but their parties remained, and that one reason this was so, was because terms were short enough for a political group to stick it out together in the hope of a comeback.

I’d like to introduce you to a very interesting book, by a Japanese scholar, Yuko Kasuya. It’s titled, “Presidential bandwagon: Parties and Party Systems in the Philippines.”

In it, she set out to work on a problem, and let me present her own summary of what her work was about.

First, “in the wake of democratization, one of the biggest challenges facing new governments is managing a smooth transition to democratic rule.” This was the specific problem Filipinos faced in 1986 after the dictatorship fell.

So Kasuya asked, “how can newly elected governments stabilize their hold on power and consolidate democratic processes?”

Or, put another way, “under what conditions might an apparently successful transition misfire?”

In her book, Kasuya “explores these questions by focusing on one of the most pressing issues in consolidating democracy: the stability of party politics. “

H.G. Welles remarked that when Queen Victoria died, it was like a big heavy paperweight had been lifted from people’s minds. Ideas began to blow around all over the place.

We faced a comparable situation after the fall of Ferdinand Marcos, who stayed in office a full generation.

In 1978, Marcos had finally set up an elected though rubber-stamp parliament, the Batasan Pambansa. He also decreed that he would set up a new superparty, edging aside his old party, the Nacionalistas. The Liberals, of course, ever since martial law, had been devastated by having no positions to compete for, and with its leaders arrested, neutralized, or co-opted. Opposition to Marcos came in the form of newer parties, and new coalitions, making the old parties obsolete. So it was that Cory Aquino and Doy Laurel, even if Ninoy had been a Liberal and Doy a Nacionalista, campaigned as UNIDO candidates in 1986.

But the Aquino administration quickly abandoned its identification as UNIDO. The Aquino administration, particularly after Congress was reestablished in 1987, governed as a Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino or LDP administration, with Ramon Mitra Jr. as the party-builder, supported by the President’s brother, in the House. The Senate had a Liberal Party leader on the other hand.

But Cory Aquino, limited to a single, six-year term with no re-election possible unlike her premartial law predecessors, didn’t make the head of her party, Mitra, her candidate. Instead, she endorsed the candidacy of Fidel V. Ramos who set up his own party, which came to be known as the Lakas-CMD.

And his own choice as Speaker, Jose de Venecia Jr., set up a Rainbow Coalition that governed for six years and even attracted Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose father had been a lifelong Liberal, to ditch her father’s party and run as a Lakas candidate.

Yet de Venecia and Lakas lost to Joseph Ejercito Estrada whose PMP suddenly became the ruling party overnight, with the Rainbow Coalition melting away. Six years of LDP gave way to six years of Lakas and what everyone expected would be six years of PMP.

But we know how that turned out; with the rise to power of Mrs. Arroyo in 2001, for the first time since her own father’s presidency in 1961, a party formerly out, was now back in. Except the President had her own pet party, Kampi, and spent the next few years trying to create a new hybrid ruling party, now known as Lakas-Kampi CMD.

Which brings us to what Kasuya explores in her book.

Why is is, the asks, that “the party system changed from a stable two-party system to an unstable multi-party system in the aftermath of democratization in the Philippines”?

Kasuya argues that “the shortened presidential term limit from two terms to one under the new Constitution was the major factor that destabilized the party system in the post-Marcos era.”

The nature of the president’s term meant that parties had no reason to stick together to support the re-election of a president; that, furthermore, presidents kept their focus on simply keeping their coalitions together during their time in office, but lost much of their ability to influence who’d replace them.

And a longer presidential term also meant a longer period in the wilderness for politicians, who could be attracted to join each president’s temporary coalition, depriving opposition parties of leaders to wait in the wings.

Let me step away from Kasuya’s book for a moment and share with you some research I did for a 2007 article I wrote for the PCIJ. Let’s refresh our memories on the political framework before and after martial law. I argued in my article that 2007 was a step back to the way things were before the dictatorship.

One interesting thing is that in terms of the House of Representatives, no administration, ever, has lost the House. The irony was that even when presidents lost, their parties would win in the House, take a look at 1953 when the LP president lost and 1961,  when the NP presidential incumbent lost. But with a new president, the House would immediately switch sides and adopt the party affiliation of the new president.

As we saw earlier, from 1907 to 1941, the last prewar election, we had only one ruling party. But much of that time, from 1907 to 1935, was still under a two party system except the executive department was in foreign hands. The moment the presidency was under Filipino control, we became a one party government.

After 1946, its interesting to note that since presidents and congressmen shared the same term, and presidents could run for reelection, the presidents would pour their resources into supporting congressmen since all politics, as they say is local. If the President lost, the party would shrink but had an incentive to accommodate all those left out in the hope they’d reclaim office in four short years –two, really, since there were those mid-term senate elections.

Which brings us to the premartial law senatorial elections, after the Senate was restored in 1941 as a nationally-elected chamber. If you had a Liberal president, the Nacionalistas could focus their efforts on turning the mid-term senate elections into a referendum on the administration. If the opposition lost, it only had two more years to wait before contesting the presidency itself once more. In 1951 and 1971, to take just two examples, everyone knew the sitting administration was doomed when the opposition swept the senatorial mid-terms in a landslide.

Since 1987, however, it’s been much messier. In the first place, with the six year term for presidents, the House and the presidency no longer contest the elections together; the House shares a mid term election, something it never did before, since its terms are now three years.

The incumbent, then, has to pour resources into holding the House, half way into its term, and fighting for the Senate; but the opposition is handicapped, too, because instead of focusing on one fight, just the senate, it fights in all districts plus the senate.

The built-in advantage is for the president’s party; unless, which is what happened in 2007, the President’s party is actually two parties, engaged in cannibalizing each other; in which case, they aren’t able to help the national, senatorial campaign, because they’re too busy with intramurals. And so the president suffered one of the biggest mid-term defeats in the senate we’ve ever seen, on the scale of Quirino’s 1951 and Marcos’s 1971 colossal defeats in the senate midterms.

But all the effort –to keep governors and congressmen fat and happy, to prevent an opposition victory in the Senate- all the things that keep presidents busy for six years, also means all their efforts melt away as soon as the campaign for their successors begin.

The book of Kasuya also examines how presidents use patronage such as the pork barrel, and how parties are actually organized, too. And she looks at other countries for data to support her argument on the effect that a presidential term limit has on other newly democratized regimes ending up more chaotic than those without presidential term limits.

So later tonight, join me to discuss this question: if everyone says democracy needs strong political parties, and if Kasuya says our constitutional rules actually gives no incentives for parties to last longer than a single administration, do the rules really affect behavior so much? Will each administration be condemned, in a sense, to reinventing the wheel?

I’m Manolo Quezon and this has been The Explainer.

 

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