The Long View
Evolution of elections
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:27:00 03/28/2010
FROM the first post-Edsa Presidential election in 1992, to the present, we’ve made a transition from the retail campaigns of the past to the wholesale media politics of the present. If the 1940s and 1950s witnessed the transition from the era when politicians slowly climbed the political party ladder and relied on local leaders to deliver the votes, to a time when the jingle, media exposure and populism gained the upper hand, it was still a time when the personal touch reigned supreme.
Magsaysay heralded the crumbling of the party system and leadership by seniority borne on the shoulders of entrenched local leaders. But those scrambling to be his heirs took things even further: Macapagal barnstormed the country, trying to shake the hand of every voter; Aquino and Marcos helicopter-hopped their way around the country. And as with all transitions for much of this time the old coexisted with the new. The Last Hurrah of the old parties was the 1969 election and then martial law put in place something new that was old at the same time.
Marcos was a man of his generation: his political ideas had jelled during his student days and the Japanese Occupation: the era of the one-party state, of the cozy and obedient relationship between provincial barons and the national leadership, and which was more inclined to flirt with concepts like Bushido rather than Jeffersonian democracy. The controlled campaigns of the New Society were plebiscites rather than elections, yet the collapse of the dictatorship saw the first flowering of mass media, and even technology (and distrust of it) in the truly modern sense. Both proved double-edged swords then, as now; tools for the party in power yet susceptible to undermining the carefully crafted messaging and machinery of the political pros.
The 1992 and 1998 campaigns witnessed another transition, from the Marcos-style big machine politics and the majority-oriented elections from 1935 to 1986 to the more chaotic, minority-takes-all multiparty system we have today. Candidates increasingly discovered that the population had gotten so immense as to make it impossible to pursue a 1960s-style barrio-to-barrio campaign: you could never shake enough voters’ hands to compete with the power of advertising to deliver a message to a gigantic electorate. Yet again, the old continued to coexist with the new; if ballot-stuffing proved increasingly inefficient, manipulating the results by means of accounting tricks was only limited in its effect by candidates being able to maintain a cheat-proof lead.
The 2004 and 2010 elections (in a sense) have restored the old one-on-one nature of the presidential elections with the lesser candidates serving as strategic obstacles to the main contenders: the politics of addition coexisting with the politics of subtraction. In 2004 the administration found itself handicapped by competition on the local level between its coalition partners while the opposition was, itself, divided and clung to old-style populism. In 2010 we are seeing three contending strategies. The administration has machinery, but is saddled with the President’s kiss of death, nationally speaking; the Villar campaign has pursued matters along the line of a corporation, with professional industry managers calling the shots, keeping the traditional politicians at arms’ length. All modern media methods have been used, and resources massively deployed, along the lines of targeting what the campaign believes will not only attract the most voters, but build an impression of inevitability – the bandwagon attempt.
The Villar campaign succeeded in achieving the critical 25-percent rating threshold conventional wisdom held as determining the front-runner. But it did so in August, just when the political landscape changed with the death of Cory Aquino. It deployed its resources to saturate the airwaves in the pre-campaign season, achieving, at one point, near-parity with the leading contender. But it has somehow failed to overtake the leading contender and if the coming polls continue their trend, the gap is once again widening just when electoral rules are limiting the ability of the Villar machine to pour money into the airwaves.
The Aquino campaign, on the other hand, has tried to build a wide-ranging coalition where traditionalists at times unhappily coexist with NGOs. And so, at times, the focus is on the provincial stump and then on the media war: with the Internet becoming a factor for the first time, though perhaps purely in a negative sense for all candidates. While Villar has the Nacionalista Party as a kind of faÃ§ade disguising the corporate structure of his campaign, the Liberal Party has traditionalists and reformists in uneasy partnership within its own ranks, eyed skeptically by outsiders who themselves distrust the media-centric nature of campaigns today. At the same time, handicapped by a lack of resources and a scrupulous regard for the rules, it could not, would not, and so didn’t, engage in carpet bombing by means of media prior to the official campaign: and focused on the old-fashioned, exhausting, plaza-to-plaza campaigning that invigorates politicians but is no longer the favored means for getting to know candidates for voters.
Where nothing has changed is election day: it will be a battle of getting one’s voters to vote while other voters face disqualification, terrorism, bribery and other means to prevent their voting. Then comes the usual chicanery in the counting, aided by power failures and harassment along the way: as the two leading candidates are now experiencing at the hands of the Comelec. Both have lawyers aplenty to ensure they adhere to the already-generous ad limits. Alleging they’ve exceeded it is the politics of subtraction: to instill doubt in voters that their candidate follows laws the administration creatively disobeys.
SWS and BusinessWorld released, today, the latest (March 19-22) survey results for the presidential and vice-presidential derby. Additional background readings can be found in my articles, The Road to Edsa (1996), Men of the year, 2000, and The May Day Rebellion, as well asÂ Elections are Like Water and Perception is King (2004), An Abnormal Return to Normality and The Perpetual Avoidance of Opportunity, Marcos in Retrospect (2) and The machinery’s in place (2007) In this corner, The possibility of a Majority, A Tandem for Democracy, (2009) What’s at Stake in the Senate Race , The battle for the Arroyo babies, and Errors in Judgment (2010); and John Nery’s articles, The 2010 Race is Set, The Vice-Presidency is Subtraction, An Agenda Waiting for a President, A History Lesson for Chiz, and Nick Joaquin’s Ayos na ang Buto-Buto (1963), Napoleon Rama’s Ferdinand E. Marcos, Man of the Year,Â 1965, and Teodoro L. Locsin’s Jr.’s Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Man of the Year,Â 1971.