The Long View: The possibility of a majority

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.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

20 thoughts on “The Long View: The possibility of a majority

  1. Another way around the problem of plurality under a multiparty system without incurring the cost of a runoff would be adopt a system of preferential voting which is found in Australia.
    Here the parties are allowed to enter into agreements with each other, wherein there votes can be allocated to their partners in order to form a majority government.
    For example, the two larger parties are the Liberals (the Conservatives) where John Howard was from and Labor, the party of the current PM Kevin Rudd. The Liberals are in coalition with the Nationals (representing the rural vote). So voters in the regional areas who vote for the Nats to represent their local district get their votes allocated to the Liberals after distribution of preferences.
    The Labor party have a similar deal with the Greens. Voters can also specify their preferences by ranking their choice of party in ascending order if they don’t like the way preferences are set by these party coalitions.
    What this means is that while the elected party in government wins a plurality of votes (usually around 40+ percent), through the distribution of preferences, they eventually garner a majority.

  2. The Cusp did raise something which I feel should have been put on the table for the longest time now, which is the use of preferential voting. Either in its single-member form (known simply as preferential voting or, in the UK, alternative vote or, in the US, instant runoff voting) or in its original multi-member incarnation, the single transferable vote, I have felt that this preserves the element of personality which is unavoidable in contemporary politics. At the same time, as shown by the example of Malta, a largely Catholic country which has used STV for most of its contemporary history, it does not preclude the formation of a strong party system.

    Of course, such a reform is radical, and indeed how it may be implemented in this country apart from presidential polls is something I am willing to share at some time in the future.

  3. At the rate this are going it seem we are headed in the direction of a majority mandate, how to sustain and increase early poll numbers will largely depend on Noynoy’s capability to lead.

  4. Keep the current system.

    Runoff elections only give the illusion of a majority. A two-party system will eventually morph into a tyranny of duopoly, ala USA. There’s some grumbling in the States where people say there’s really no difference between the Democrats and Republicans.

    Am I the only one who likes the current system?

  5. 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.

    Manolo, you are saying that the narrative for this election is not a settling of the rich v poor conflict (as in 2001, People Power 2 forces v Erap forces), it should be framed in terms of the Hello Garci conflict (2005) of GMA v the people. The reason for this being, GMA debased our political institutions using the post-911 mood of prioritising the welfare of the state above its citizens.

    This timeline and distinction you make might be a little too limited for some. If we are to believe Anderson’s critique of our politics (Cacique Democracy) and Hutchcroft’s analysis of our economy (Booty Capitalism analysis), our institutions have been the underlying problem of our lack of progress ever since our birth as a nation.

    So for us to say, the problem is GMA, is a bit near-sighted in a way. If this election merely represents the replacement of one propertied member of the political elite with another, it will not bring about change. That’s as far as personalities go.

    Policy differences over VFA, JPEPA, and charter change matter, but they are not fundamental enough. These are merely the formal institutions. The greater underlying problem is the system of patrimonialism that make the state subservient to the economic interests of the political class.

    The tantalizing thing about one candidate, is that although he hails from the same set of ruling elites, the crucible of suffering and oppression his family endured might (and that is a big qualifier, might) make him subsume his personal interests willingly and enforce an impersonal rules based governance system on his fellow elites. All our other formal institutions have failed to bring the arbitrariness of our rulers to heel.

    This is the structural break that the country needs to have. The organising principle should be good governance v bad governance, optimising personal v social utility. To those who join the coalition, it must be made clear, there will be not tit-for-tat later on.

  6. “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.”

    Ah, Filipinos, yes, just because they know English they feel that everything they do is decent and permissible. They are even more uncouth than the masses.

  7. That’s exactly the problem with Manolo. He is such an apologist for the elite. Manolo belongs to the more liberal and democratic section of the elite, which is more devious because this section of the elite hides behind moral platitudes to disguise their sense of entitlement and self-importance.

    Like the so-called civil society and other elitist groups like the Makati Business Club, Manolo brushes aside other opposition candidates. After all they have already found their champion, their Arthur, to lead their Camelot. Unity within the opposition can only come at their terms. As Manolo puts it, their group has put the unifying factors in place. Hence:

    “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.”

    That presidential candidate is, of course, Noynoy.

    And lest, any of the opposition question Noynoy’s capacity to lead, Manolo dismisses that as “being hostile to particular candidates, for no other reason than past grudges within the ranks of the opposition”.

    To question this latest conspiracy of the elite to snatch the initiative would, in Manolo’s words, “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”.

    Is there evidence that Noynoy’s entry has elevated the discourse?

    And, of course, Manolo dismisses inequality, poverty and class warfare by declaring that “the only grudge that should count is against the administration and its unrepentant collaborators”. As if Gloria Arroyo and her collaborators, just like Ferdinand Marcos before, were not supported by the ruling elite.

    As happened with Marcos, Gloria Arroyo has worn out her welcome with the elite. She has served their purpose, now she can be thrown to the wolves. That is all fine, as long as the elite were thrown to the wolves as well. But they’re going to get away with this again. F. Scott Fitzgerald was right about the rich being different . . .

  8. Carl, to be fair to MLQ3, I don’t think he means to brush all other opposition candidates aside, to make way for the coronation of King Noynoy as you put it.

    I think he is merely raising the issue of instability that comes as a result of a win by plurality, and he argues for a more consolidated field of contenders so that a majority vote becomes possible.

    He also wants a more principled debate over issues and platforms, which is fine. He is appealing to the “better angels” of the present crop in this sense.

    I merely beg to differ on his point that all our problems began with GMA’s assault on democracy in 2005, which he contends should be the defining moment for those coalescing around the frontrunners. Whereas, I would think the problem is more systemic.

    GMA thought that because she ascended to Malacanang through extra constitutional means, that she could continue to flaunt the rules to stay in power. She has in a way conformed to the mores of her peers in the ruling elite, who mouth platitudes to good governance and transparency, but actually operate by a different set of rules behind the scenes.

    What we need is not a De Gaulle, a strong president to coax the ungovernable majority to follow. The reason why there is so much dissent is because people see the duplicity of those who rule them.

    What we need is a president who will curtail his own powers to interfere with the appointments of bureaucrats and will resist interfering in contracts or criminal cases etc. Who will depoliticise the setting of policies and will make decisions by consulting the evidence as well as stakeholders. Who will not allow his agenda to be dictated by political patrons or cronies.

    In short, it is not “rich v poor” nor “Pedro v Juan” nor “anti-GMA v pro-GMA”. It is about “old rules vs new rules”, “dating gawi o makabagong prinsipyo”.

  9. ABS-CBM did the agitating and it struck a chord. Now there are those who for good or evil wish to capitalize on the effect as an organizing tool.

    Mar Roxas saw the direction of the wave and he wisely stepped off his surfboard.

    Can this be sustained? MLQ3 wisely is looking to historical precedent on how majorities are formed based on our very very very short political history.

    The last five years should teach anyone to simply observe as the very act of observing will change the reality. It seems more people area talking politics… That in itself portends an important change…

  10. FOX News in the States has been very successful in organizing the margins of the Republican party.

    A small but nonetheless noisy group.. In a time of great economic distress it will attract people to the noise.. But there are astute political operatives organizing this movement.

    The same with Noynoy.

    Now is not the time to retire to the sidelines. Can Villar’s people adjust to the new reality? The guys is lousy at communicating just as much as Noynoy. They will probably go to coaches in public speaking.

    Reagan and Obama are great communicators.

    Escudero has a slight edge in communicating but he speaks nonsense. His time will come later.

    What a game!!!!!

  11. “I would think the problem is more systemic.” – The Cusp


    Bingo! I couldn’t agree more. Although I still believe that Manolo, and the section of the elite he belongs to, are in a rush to crown King Noynoy. And, because they tread on shaky ground when issues turn to the deeper malaise, such as the systemic rapaciousness of our elite, they want to limit discussions to GMA and her “unrepentant collaborators”. Manolo insists that “the dividing line” should be limited to 2005.

    While GMA should be fair game, I believe that there shouldn’t be dividing lines. Everything should be on the table, most especially the chronic issues of inequality, poverty, neglect of agriculture and the countryside, the shallow economy and what can be done about it, the very limited opportunities for the vast majority, etc.

    Much as Manolo would want to veil his and his fellow elite’s conceit, it becomes obvious with Manolo’s claim that those who question Noynoy’s supremacy among the opposition “want to keep the 2010 elections to the low level they were before Aquino’s entry into the fray”.

    Geez, so the Noynoy groupies have taken over the high ground? I would like to know how Noynoy has elevated the discourse. I hear ridiculous comparisons with Barack Obama, but at least Barack Obama is extremely eloquent and has impressive academic credentials. An Obama can certainly elevate any discussions. And Obama endured 2 years of gruelling primaries, being tested against formidable opponents like Hillary Clinton. I haven’t seen anything in Noynoy, thus far. I would like to see it, after he has been put to the test. But to rush to crown our Arthur at this point is premature.

  12. I agree with Cusp where he points out that mlq3 is merely rather nostalgic of the two-party system which the “people power” Constitution has done away with, the result of which is a presidency without a true majority mandate as the norm (and a potentially lessened presidency as a further consequence).

    Cusp of course ignores Manolo’s other point that the coalition which had ended Marcos’ reign failed to unite (in ideological terms) with a view to engaging in bold experiments for democratic reforms that are extractable from the new Constitution. The coalition has let itself slide to being a reactive force rater than active change agents. Without an engaged citizenry, old politics dominates the political exercise. But only very recently the same force has been re-energized by the passing of the preeminent symbol of its (Yellow) revolution (the “Great Awakening,” as Manolo puts it) and yet hounded by the fact its next choice for the presidency, given the multiparty structure, would still be without a true majority, hence the potential for yet another diminished presidency. Noynoy might have changed the equation.

    But where Cusp differs with Manolo is also where I differ from him for Manolo did not say “that all our problems began with GMA’s assault on democracy in 2005” (the Hello Garci tapes scandal) whereas Cusp states that “the problem is more systemic” in fact. Manolo only says that 2005 was “the dividing line.” I will not preempt Manolo’s explanation of this line but I guess such a timeline is correct.

    2005 marked a breach of an “implied promise,” the promise on the part of GMA to take the moral high ground after Erap. The coalition then suffered from “relative deprivation” because of such a grave breach (or “duplicity,” as Cusp describes it) enough to generate a new EDSA. However, the surge did not materialize with many blaming FVR’s intervention. The movement has failed to gain momentum since then and therefore has remained deprived.

    What we are seeing could be a groundswell of pent-up emotions of the same force that now finds a champion in a presidential candidate it perceives to possess “unifying factors” – those of “integrity and honesty, and who is pledged to an administration marked by transparency and accountability.” And Manolo even qualifies himself: “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.”

    If we examine certain legislative initiatives sponsored by Noynoy as also reflected in the LP platform, I believe we are seeing a presidential candidate in Noynoy with a “guiding set of political principles” that seeks to uplift the poor and the worker as well as promote social justice which could possibly unite him in ideological terms “with volunteers, leaders with followers, according to common goals” towards meaningful changes (or transformation) in our economic and social practices.

  13. Mr Margallo (Abe), the reason why I say that this contest is not about GMA (a struggle between “good and evil”) is because by demonising her, we are avoiding the more fundamental problem that caused her to renege on her promise for “new politics”.

    Whoever wins will face the same situation of having to counter the informal rules (of the old order) that supplant our formal laws and institutions.

    Our political markets have been dominated since their inception by a clique of wealthy families. (The US needed them to counterbalance the revolutionary forces led by Aguinaldo) Their restoration after Marcos, made any stab at social reform (read: agrarian reform) and other “bold experiments” nearly impossible.

    The problem with our democracy is the notion that anything goes, where the administration engages in a free for all grab at resources, while the opposition seeks to destabilise it at every turn. What we need is an honest government and a responsible opposition that holds it to account.

    This election is not just about who gets to form a government, but who will lead the opposition after June 30, 2010. By framing the contest as a clash of “light and darkness” we will end up with an impossible situation where the ruling party goes to any length to protect itself and a new crop of Hyatt 10’s will emerge who will try to orchestrate an extra constitutional takeover.

    This has to stop. 2005 should not be the dividing line, let’s make it 2010!

  14. Let me just point readers in the direction of previous pieces where I’ve fleshed out my approach to our past and the influence it’s had on our present and where I think we’re headed in the future. Readers can read or ignore these as they please.

    A complex achievement

    The perpetual avoidance of opportunity

    The future of Asia: whither nation or state?

    The fabric of freedom

    Elections are like water

    An abnormal return to normality

    On the other hand, much as I’d like to point out an insist on avoiding the tendency to lump people together in the manner that The Eternal Jew was portrayed by Goebbels, his having been a former Marxist indicates how emotionally satisfying and politically comforting it is to permanently categorize people as belonging to a kind of hive in which all those considered alike act in unison always across generations.

    In the first place, this is only possible to assert if one resorts to the broadest generalizations to the extent of believing in a caricature. Because unless one denies that any sort of social mobility has taken place, then you’d naturally have to sift through the category you hate and find out just how many have endured over time, and then you’d also have to ask if they operate from the point of view of a hive-like conscious allegiance to say, class. No such solidarity exists in any class except there might be some within that class who do engage in hive-like behavior due to ideology or religion (aspects of the same kind of human urge to be fanatics).

    anyway since this is an open forum, since i propose my views readers have taken to discussing them and that’s the important thing.

    what there’s the potential for, is for noynoy to be in a sense the kind of class traitor all great reformers (roosevelt, churchill) are, and one impetus for this is knowledge of where his mother fell short. and one incentive for this is, in the absence of a broad middle class (since the middle class is actually shrinking), is for a broader coalition that provides a candidate with sustained political support, which gives a president the means to resist the pressures of those who have the time and resources, including money, to focus on politics while everyone else is busy simply trying to survive. in this sense, big business in particular has a built-in advantage in extracting concessions from government, since even if presidents rise up without their supoort, the businessmen, etc. have supported other officials without whom nothing can be done even by a well-meaning or popular president.

  15. Manolo, thanks for the reading list(!). For those of us who are newbies, it provides a good understanding of where you are coming from.
    While some here might say that you subscribe to a form of Elitism (with a capital “E”) the political school of thought that in its classic sense contends that there are two classes: the rulers and those ruled.

    From your collection of works however it is quite clear that you subscribe to a more nuanced form of Pluralism, in which all sections of society are organised to have their interests represented in the policy agenda, and where they take turns in dominating each other (democratic elitism). This is probably the prevailing consensus since no one these days really believes that the country is a feudal state (just ask Rep Riza Hontiveros!).

    Although a significant section of society feels aggrieved because of the notion floating about that only one class has the right to rule, the irony is that the Karina Davids and Dinky Solimans represent the modernising sections of society. The grievance stems more from their means of acquiring power, rather than their aims.

    But you are arguing for a unification of the EDSA II and III forces, based on the anti GMA fault line, when in the context of Lacson’s revelations today, might actually take away votes from your rooster than add to him.
    “what there’s the potential for, is for noynoy to be in a sense the kind of class traitor all great reformers (roosevelt, churchill) are…”
    There is no doubt that Noynoy if elected will have significant incentives to behave while in office. In politics, as in business, the product that has developed a brand name will find it too costly to renege on its promises, since it has invested heavily in establishing its reputation.

    The same applies to the Aquinos who have sacrificed life and limb to establish their franchise among voters. The question is how will he succeed where others have failed, and how can he make any change stick? Through a succession plan? Roxas and Pangilinan are two of the most prepared in his party.

    But in case his reform movement falters, there has to be a responsible and credible opposition ready to offer an alternative to the electorate. Perhaps Escudero if he has not acquired the tastes and habits of a trapo by 2016 as he himself fears could perform the role of keeping them honest.

  16. Noynoy will always be a cwn. It’s there for all of us to see. Let’s not go gaga over his lineage. It won’t work. Nor would our hopes and prayers. He will never be the total sum of his parents. And what if inherits his father’s misfortune and her mother’s weaknesses?

    We need a president who is made of a sterner stuff. If we ask for a Roosevelt or a Churchill please don’t give us a Noynoy. Please be honest with us. We are not really that stupid. We all know what a cwn is. We all know that it is not a concrete nail. The latter is what we need.

  17. Nobody expects Noynoy to be as brilliant and eloquent as his father nor as charming as his mother. People will vote for Noynoy because he represents the people’s desire for change in governance, transparency, accountability, moral leadership, etc.

    We thought we put a Roosevelt in 2001/2004 but she ended up worst than a Marcos!

    The Cusp is right. It’s “dating gawi o makabagong prinsipyo”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.