The Long View
Prerogatives versus consensus
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:06:00 08/24/2009
How often have you heard people say the following: That rather than risk a downward spiral into political instability by means of People Power putting a fragmented and uninspiring opposition in power, or worse, inaugurating a series of equally fragmented unelected ruling juntas, they’d rather grin and bear it until the President bows out of office in 2010? A strange consensus that indicts the entire political class, but which rewards failure with continued power.
Actually, not a consensus but a surrender, because the public has abandoned any pretense of exacting accountability. Boil down the issues, and they will be reduced to the problem of officials asserting their prerogatives because of the inability of the public to arrive at a consensus because of all the assertions of prerogatives, not just by officials, but anyone claiming a semblance of authority.
The ongoing controversy surrounding the proclamation of new National Artists has degenerated into a legalistic division between proponents of either presidential or artistic prerogative, with both sides essentially insisting on an all-or-nothing approach. And yet both the President and artists opposed to her forget that the title of National Artist is most meaningful when reflecting a consensus arrived at both by artists and by the broader public, who could be represented by a president if sensitive to both public opinion and recognizing individual excellence.
Consider the ridiculous obsession with “premature” campaigning when the real question should be whether our existing official campaign period is even sufficient for the public to clarify, in its collective mind, what the real issues are, or adequate enough to introduce candidates and their platforms to a public that needs time to scrutinize the candidates based on those issues.
As it is, the campaign officially begins in November, and only because automation requires it; otherwise it would’ve begun next February. A full year too late.
We have candidates criticized for presenting themselves to the public, but who cannot claim any real constituency behind them – because of a lack of material time. Take just three examples.
All the current contenders for the presidency should’ve begun campaigning a year ago, going through the elimination rounds of their own card-carrying constituents before even presenting themselves to the broader public.
But by law, they have to short-circuit the process, since conventions can’t even take place until November.
And people wonder why the race will inevitably become an intensive ad campaign, substituting emotion and posturing for a meaningful dialogue on the issues?
What choice do any of the candidates have? Without an organized following – a constituency mobilized to campaign for and fund a candidacy – political independence can come only from mobilizing personal or familial wealth, which enables them to escape the chicken-or-egg situation in which not having money leaves even charismatic candidacies stillborn.
This situation means that candidates who think that if they’d only be given a chance they could muster a national constituency are hampered by the short campaign period requiring a pell-mell realignment of the political pros. The pros simply don’t have time to waste on elimination rounds where candidates vie for party votes, and where the country, in turn, is watching and learning and then judging the merits or demerits of candidates who survive the party conventions.
That’s because the political pros only have half the official campaign period to make their national choices, since the other half of the campaign’s devoted to the nitty-gritty of their local political fight for survival.
This magnifies the clout of organized groups that rely, not on the critical thinking of their followers, but rather, their blind obedience. The captive, collective votes of churches and preachers, of the Communist Party and its fronts, or of the warlords aren’t capable of electing candidates on their own. But they can make the difference in a close election with many candidates and an electorate deprived of enough time and opportunity to coalesce around a majority-winning candidate.
Where then, can a citizen really say he is free to vote as he truly pleases?
Rushed to a choice by an artificially limited campaign period in which ads are less about the issues and more a blitzkrieg of emotionalism on the airwaves; placed in a situation where, even if the voter would rather see candidates up close, campaigns are hampered by rebels in the hills extorting from the candidates; and where voters are intimidated or spied upon by bodyguards or commanded by preachers, elders and prelates; where can democracy actually thrive?
The illusion of one man, one vote, is merely that. Where the campaign period is artificially limited; where candidates sell the illusion they represent a constituency instead of arising, organically, from organized constituencies; and where, because of the mad rush to cobble together, not a true majority, but a minority slightly larger than any other rival minority, no one has an incentive to truly capture the popular imagination, and thus, enjoy truly popular support.
Why do you think the President said “Let us also make the alliance between the local government units and the Armed Forces of the Philippines a major campaign plank, especially in the local elections”? Naked force is the key to survival of a coalition that, like Marcos, does not intend to die. Which is why in nine years, it has only proposed ways to entrench itself but not really change the system.
In one respect all the non-administration candidates have an advantage the Frankenstein coalition of the President lacks. All can foster the illusion that they are viable national candidates’ an illusion because all are incapable of mustering what the country requires: a true majority to finally forge a national consensus.