Reversing the loss of political biodiversity
In my last column, I argued that our elections consume much expense, energy, passion and even human lives, yet are designed to elect primarily candidates with name recall. The capacity of the electoral system to renew and refresh our governing elite is so limited that we have lost political biodiversity.
How do we escape from name recall politics? Here is my wish list of who should do what to help:
- Let the Commission on Elections (Comelec) allow people to choose among political parties, not just individual candidates. Enable block voting. If a voter chooses a political party or an icon representing a political party on the ballot, it means he is voting for all the candidates of that party.
- Let more government, private sector, academic, media and civil society think tanks and organizations produce relevant performance data and information on candidates. How have these elected or appointed public officials performed? Let think tanks and organizations come up with competing schemes and information.
- Let the Comelec sponsor more avenues and venues for the candidates to jointly present their platforms to the electorate. Let all candidates debate widely on a range of topics across the archipelago. These avenues and venues should help equalize the exposure of candidates to the electorate.
- Let universities, schools and civil society organizations organize forums that run candidates through problem-solving or policymaking scenarios and simulations, to give voters additional perspectives on the candidates’ competence and orientations in dealing with crucial public issues.
- Let the Comelec improve and enforce the rules on the use of campaign resources and campaign materials. Premature campaigning mocks the system and should be curbed. Proactive enforcement is key. After elections, victory becomes the excuse for absolving errant politicians.
- Let Congress pass a law to reimburse political parties for their electoral expenses. Elections have an educative function and should be funded publicly and not treated primarily as a personal or corporate investment of the candidates.
- Let the Comelec and the courts resolve candidate qualifications early and decisively. Disallow candidates convicted of crimes to run. Or, just like in cigarette advertisements, warn voters in these candidates’ posters that they are ex-convicts or have cases pending in court.
- Let the Comelec open the elections to more candidates, especially those who are deemed unable to “mount credible national campaigns.” Running in an election is an effective remedy for lack of voter awareness. Openness to new entrants enriches elections with new perspectives and ideas.
- Let universities, think tanks, civil society organizations and media do more studies on voter behavior. Help reinvent how voters are educated more comprehensively using new technology. Help make voting a deliberate, well-thought-out decision, not a spur-of the-moment or incentive-induced action.
- Let leaders of families, neighborhoods, communities, sectors and organizations organize discussions and debates on who the best candidates are for these groups. Voting should be a secret, individual act, but discussing about who the best candidates are is not. Make voting more of an informed decision aided by the collective wisdom of groups.
- Let traditional media, social media and civil society watchdogs prevent the contamination of social media with fake news. Abuse of social media gives moneyed politicians additional power to mislead voters by drowning and canceling out the campaign of resource-starved candidates dependent on online platforms.
- Let public opinion survey firms ask people more meaningful questions, not only about their awareness and voting preference. We need to know more about the power of endorsements, exposure to fake news, and critical national and local events that shape their lives and their votes.
If we keep doing the same things, how can the results be different? We need to change the system, so that the Florin Hilbays and Samira Gutocs have the same chances to win as the Bong Revillas and Lito Lapids. We must protect our endangered political species.
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