The will of the people
How is the will of the people manifested and defined?
In a democratic society, the will of the people is expressed through the right of suffrage and defined by its elected representatives. Generally it is taken to mean a decision by simple majority, or half-plus-one wins the vote.
But our political reality is not that simple.
Our multiparty system, while meant to be more democratic because it enlarges the number of candidate choices, ironically subverts the rule of the majority.
A simple majority is hard to come by because the votes are spread out. All our presidents elected under the 1987 Constitution are plurality presidents: Fidel V. Ramos got 23.58 percent of the vote; Joseph Estrada, 39.86 percent; Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, 39.99 percent; Benigno Aquino III, 42.08 percent; and Rodrigo Duterte, 39.01 percent. The multiparty system necessitates a coalition government, but it encourages turncoatism as well. Not that political principles matter in a society like ours, where the justice secretary pronounces drug dealers and dependents not part of humanity, or where you can be strangled to death right in the headquarters of the Philippine National Police.
Our leadership is elected by the biggest bloc that voted for him or her, not by the majority. While this system has gained consensus, the expression of the people’s will is diminished. The power of the bloc is in fact emphasized when we have bloc voting like the Iglesia ni Cristo does.
But then again there is no perfect system. Even that of the world’s biggest democracy, the United States, occasionally thwarts the will of the people. The American system attempts to uphold fair representation of the various states by having an electoral college allocate votes (in general) according to whether or not a presidential candidate won in that particular state. In two recent instances—Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016—popular vote winners lost in the electoral college.
It has been said that there is too much politics in our country. There truly is, as there is a national election every three years, not to mention various other polls like barangay and ARMM elections in between. True, there are economic benefits, as election spending has been known to boost the economy. But elections are very distracting from the business at hand, which is building a stronger economy and developing a healthier, happier people. Politics is power-seeking and therefore conflict-inducing and disruptive.
We are not even aware anymore that the electoral exercise is supposed to serve the ends of democracy. We are not even served by any real changing of the guard as many elective positions in many localities are dominated by whichever dynasty is in power, with a family member holding whatever position at a particular time, only to be relinquished to another family member when his or her term limit expires as he or she moves on to another elective position. These farcical elections give us the illusion of choice when in fact they are just expensive exercises that perpetuate exactly the same people or family members in power.
Our vote can be truly useful if it is used not only in electing officials but also in expressing preferences on national issues. While we have informal online surveys and public hearings, there should be a simpler mechanism that is institutionalized and takes advantage of the speed and reach of social media. Registered voters can have secure accounts similar to those employed in online banking to ensure the credibility of the online results.
Online polling will also allow for greater consultation and more introspection. For example, a recent survey showed that 84 percent of respondents want to press our claims in the West Philippine Sea, contrary to the backpedaling of the Duterte administration on the matter. Online polls can help us chart our national destiny instead of merely relying on the decision-making of plurality presidents.
Roderick Toledo is a freelance communication projects manager.