The bleak saga of the third force
CANBERRA—A review of the results of Philippine general elections since 1961 paints a dismal saga of third-party movements. The presidential election on Nov. 14, 1961, is a good benchmark of the stability of our electoral system because on that date, President Carlos P. Garcia of the Nacionalista Party lost his bid for a second full term to Vice President Diosdado Macapagal of the Liberal Party. Garcia’s running mate, Sen. Sergio Osmeña Jr., lost to Sen. Emmanuel Pelaez, also of the LP. It is also a useful starting point to examine shifting party realignments in the run-up to the May 2016 elections.
The 1961 election was an election of upsets and a departure from patterns of results that defined the transfer of power for 16 years (from 1945 to 1961), in a period when the two-party system was in full flight. Data suggest that the 1961 election marked the start of the instability of the two-party system and the volatility of party alignments. According to the data, six candidates ran for president, four of whom were “nuisance” candidates. This was the only election in Philippine electoral history in which a vice president defeated the incumbent. It was a turning point for shaping the character of the electoral system.
Today, at least four politicians have telegraphed their intention to run for president in 2016. Whether or not they are nuisance candidates is hard to say. Compared with 1961, there is no basis to claim that the field is overcrowded. It does offer Filipino voters a choice beyond those declared as official candidates of the administration’s Liberal Party or of the opposition party of Vice President Jejomar Binay within the framework of the two-party system, which is demonstrating a strong revival against the multiparty system, the model established by the administration of President Cory Aquino after the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolt.
We are limiting the scope of this examination to the possible emergence of a third party as a
vehicle to capture political power.
In the 1961 election, there was no trace of a third-party movement. Macapagal won with 55.05 percent of the votes. Garcia received 44.95 percent. An attempt at a third force had been made by Sen. Rogelio de la Rosa, a popular movie actor; he wanted to run for president without a party. Fearing that De la Rosa would split the
opposition vote against Garcia, Macapagal persuaded De la Rosa to withdraw from the race. The two-party system was saved.
A third force appeared for the first time in 1957 to test the waters of its acceptability as a viable alternative to the NP-LP domination—the Progressive Party of the Philippines (PPP) of Sen. Manuel P. Manahan or the Nationalist Citizens Party (NCP) of Sen. Lorenzo Tañada. The 1957 election proved disastrous to the cause of the third force.
The incumbent, the NP’s Garcia who had succeeded to the presidency after the death of the hugely popular and charismatic President Ramon Magsaysay in a plane crash in March 1957, won a full term with 41.28 percent of the vote, defeating the LP’s Jose Yulo, who polled 27.62 percent. Manahan of the PPP received 20.90 percent, and Sen. Claro M. Recto of the NCP only 8.5 percent despite his reputation as a nationalist and an intellectual. After its debacle in the 1961 election. the PPP was dissolved in 1965 by its founder,
Sen. Raul Manglapus, who realized the futility of sustaining a third-force movement. It never saw the light of day again. No third party ever won in a presidential election since 1945.
In 1957, Garcia’s then running mate, Rep. Jose Laurel Jr., lost to then Pampanga Representative Macapagal—the first time in Philippine electoral history that a president was elected by a plurality and not a majority, and in which the president and vice president came from different parties.
From that time on, the party system underwent radical transformations in which the predictable pattern of two major parties regularly alternating in power disappeared in the turbulent political upheavals of the 1970s and 1980s. During these periods, not even the weakest impulse of a third force reappeared.
It disappeared as an organizing force in electoral mobilization in the convulsions of the 1972 declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos, who dismantled democracy, shuttered Congress and dissolved political parties, replacing them with his own New Society Movement based on the single-party rule of the KBL (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan). Cory Aquino’s experiments in populism, which installed the multiparty system as a democratic response to the Marcos dictatorship, wiped out the ground for third parties to grow.
Although a wide variety of political parties blossomed under the free-wheeling milieu of the multiparty system, they remained a medley of undisciplined formations without ideological orientations based on policies and programs. They operated on the shifting alliances of personalistic factions of the political elite, which recruited its cadres and leaders from the social base of the middle and
affluent classes whose interests defined the conservatism of the major parties (essentially centrist parties professing liberal democratic tendencies at most, with social democratic inclinations).
This bourgeois base of the political parties helps explain why the mainstream parties have taken moderate positions in pushing social change, and why radical movements have had
little success in promoting class struggle as a means of seizing state power. Thus, in Philippine politics, there never developed parties of the Left and parties of the Right.
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