Do platforms count in elections?
AVERAGE FILIPINOS can rate government performance based on how national issues are addressed. In the latest Pulse Asia survey, respondents identified labor wages, inflation and poverty followed by corruption and employment as priority concerns. Asked to appraise government response, most respondents registered high disapproval.
Using the survey, if performance ratings will decide the outcome of the 2016 national elections, then the administration slate will be trashed. But other preelection surveys reveal other outcomes—i.e., votes will go to candidates with high public awareness regardless of their competence or track record.
Surveys concerning public perceptions on socioeconomic issues, self-rating on poverty and employment have been conducted since the late 1980s. Results have been similar through the years, with key questions like poverty consistently eliciting disturbing response. They also show government performance and trust ratings sliding from one administration to the next.
The surveys show the scale of dissatisfaction regarding the performance of the government—and the politicians that lord over it—in addressing public interest concerns. But do public dissatisfaction and disapproval equate to less votes? Do opinion surveys on gut issues matter to politicians? Do candidates win by the populist issues they claim to champion?
Before the 2010 presidential election, the trust rating of Gloria Arroyo had crumbled owing to allegations of corruption and poll fraud. Benigno Aquino III, who succeeded her, could not claim any role in her negative rating. But his allies cannily used corruption as a campaign slogan when it ripened as an insurmountable issue due to public clamor for an end to the Arroyo regime through massive protests and impeachment charges. The death of his mother, former president Corazon Aquino, became a spectacular political drama that shot the family name back to fame. All that campaign strategists needed were a family name and the anticorruption bandwagon to catapult him to the presidency. They claimed ownership of issues that had been socialized by mass protests.
Riding on the crest of popular issues, politicians proclaim themselves as destined to be problem-solvers; they cite their being economists, rags-to-riches entrepreneurs, or lawyers. Pomp and pageantry prop them up as being with the “masses” (Joseph Estrada’s “Erap para sa mahirap”) or as the epitome of good governance (President Aquino’s “daang matuwid”).
Many candidates, especially those aiming for national positions, make political capital of issues with which voters identify. They know people want change through clean government and allow hope to replace misery. But instead of being addressed or articulated as platforms, issues are trivialized into sound bites that are repeated endlessly in trimedia ads, campaign sorties, news conferences and social media.
An injustice is committed on the people when issues are not ventilated during elections. A ventilation of issues would enable them to identify sound policy alternatives and to differentiate candidates who mouth empty promises from those who can move mountains by vision and leadership.
Aggravating stealthy campaign tactics are surveys conducted to measure the level of public awareness and choice of candidates. Public exposure, media visibility and grandstanding increase public perception on presumed aspirants. Preelection surveys reinforce popularity as a benchmark for choosing candidates. Instead of expounding, preelection surveys obscure the profound realities of hardships and social inequality. If questions were framed differently so that the aspirants’ acceptability is based on issues, competence and track record, the findings will tell a different story. Conventional surveys perpetuate the “bankability” and “winnability” of certain aspirants. They do not promote intelligent voting, where respondents pick candidates based on gut issues.
Thus, until now elections have neither elevated issues to the national discourse to promote intelligent voting nor allowed less known but qualified candidates to win (i.e., to serve for a cause and above self). In the unreformed, fraud-prone electoral process, with the poll body not independent and beholden to a foreign technology supplier, dynastic politicians always have the edge.
Over the past 10 years, however, voters have been exposed to a shift in election campaigns where issues are articulated and public sentiments raised to the principled election platform. Some party-list groups espousing the “politics of change” have transformed the election as a vehicle of public engagement for the marginalized people’s representation in Congress. The groups bring a qualitative change in the elite-dominated politics despite extreme logistical constraints and the politics of impunity of forces opposed to reform.
Unlike elections, the parliament of the streets remains the more potent tool for addressing public issues, where critical awareness turns into mass mobilization, and causes become change factors. This form of popular struggle denotes a high level of social and political awareness as tested in numerous indignation protests, citizens’ initiatives, “civil disobedience,” and collective peaceful uprisings. Extraconstitutional political actions bring down despots or make authorities accountable, as in the pork barrel scandal. When everything else fails, the nonelectoral venue is always a sovereign option.
Bobby Tuazon is the director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (www.cenpeg.org).
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