Two-Party System and the Philippine Political Drama
January 12, 2008 5 Comments
Maybe all of us fans of politics and elections are watching closely as America casts its first of two ballots this year, with the end of electing a new President. While some Filipinos look at it with gaze and amazement, some Filipinos, particularly myself, can only look with so much envy.
The American political system today is a product of decades, if not centuries, of constant re-engineering. While there is a centralized election rule, there are also state modifications and/or differences particularly on how they cast their ballot, duration of elections, and conduct of primaries/caucuses.
It is an understatement to say that America’s electoral and political system makes the electorate’s will amplified a thousand times. For from the nomination of the Presidential candidate, until the election of a President, the electorate’s participation is indispensible. We can only look with anguish and envy.
We see that there are only two parties vying for the post. Democrats and Republicans face off, first against partymates, then against each other, as they both attempt to grab the White House. For some, this may be delimiting the electorate’s choices, but I see that this is what their primaries are about – to start with a wide array of candidates and trimming it down as the actual elections come.
But America is an old democracy, tailored to become a pioneer of democracy and a model of elections. But is the American model suitable to a country whose politics is as disastrous and dramatic as the Philippines’?
The Philippines is a way younger democracy than America, which started in 1946, and interrupted for 14 years by Martial rule. Like America, we used to have two dominant political parties – the NACIONALISTAS (founded in 1907), and the LIBERAL (founded in 1945). The two are the oldest political parties in the Philippines.
THose were the days. WHen the Philippines only had two stroing political parties. Everything was great. Public discourse were always something to look forward to, and the LIB-NAC debates fared better than soap operas. We can just reminisce.
But when dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, the operations of these political parties stopped, because Marcos constitutionalized a one-party system of which his party, the Kilusan ng Bagong Lipunan (KBL), was the ruling party. From being political rivals, LP and NP both became opposition parties, and if my history serves me right, they even allied in elections against KBL. This marked the political crisis we still face today.
When the country regained democracy in 1986, Corazon Aquino, wife of slain LP member Ninyo Aquino, convened for a constitutional commission to pen a new constitution for the country. But this constitution did not specify the placement of a two-party system. And from then on, until today, we see at least five Presidential candidates, a rainbow Congress, and a nation in a hostage drama.
In 1992, the first post-Marcos elections, we saw seven candidates vying for the Presidency who were Fidel Ramos, who eventually won the elections, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the closest contender, Jovito Salonga, Ramon Mitra, Salvador Laurel, Danding Cojuangco, and Marcos’ wife Imelda Marcos. WIth seven candidates, the President was a minority president. Both Houses of Congresses flooded with lawmakers of different party affiliations, and the concept of “coalition” was in puberty.
While the Filipino electorate had so much people to choose from, the system was shook to its roots by the way political parties were established. Each candidate had a political party of his own, perhaps some may have founded only to become a tactical parties only for their use during elections. This is true for much of political parties here in the Philippines.
But why can’t the Philippines relive its two-party system?
I am not a political analyst not a student of political science, but I am an avid fan of politics and watch the world grind itself alive during elections.
For one, the prevalence of political dynasties in the Philippines may be cited for lack of two strong political parties. AFter Ferdinand Marcos left office in 1986, the political families of the country divided it among themselves. We see the same last names when we elect leaders – this is most especially true in the provinces. And like true blue dynasties, when they fall, they are only replaced by another dynasty, most of the time by their rival family.
Political families become political parties in themselves, because they are composed of men and women with a strong grassroots mass-base. Sometimes (and it is beneficial for the people), political dynasties have more doable programs than political parties.
With the presence of political families in some areas of the country, the political party loses its very essence.
Another fact is because the parties themselves would want to stay that way. They choose to stay fragments and continue fielding presidentiables. And after elections, they coalesce to form rainbow governments. While this allows flexibility in government, the continuing turncoating of the parties themselves prove to be a hindrance in development.
The rainbow coalitions do not have a stable program of government, for internally, there is a constant desire to grab power. Equilibrium is seldom achieved in rainbow coalitions, which result to constant threat of ouster.
By the time that one coalition ends its term, another coalition is formed, sometimes by the same parties with some additions, or a brand new coalition. With a new coalition, programs are different, and no continuity is achieved.
In a two-party system, while there may be extreme disparities in principles and political agenda, they make sure that projects continue on. In a two-party system, there is a strong program of government, a stable administration-opposition relations, and continuity of government affairs.
Since both parties are well-oriented and respect the operations of various institutions of government, they observe continuity and respect on-going programs. In our system, when Presidents change, programs halt, and the country is [usually] back to square one.
Lastly, the Philippines is too much divided as a nation. AT first glance, this division may have been an opportunity to strengthe two-party system, but capitalists and opportunists capitalized on this unity to create political parties, loyal, not to the people, but to themselves. This influx of political parties prove to be the beginning of a looming anarchy.
Well, well, well… I think the Filipino people and politicians need more time watching CNN.