10 May 2010

Democracy, Especially in the Philippine Setting

So let us all pretend that you are all in my History class and we are all starting a new lesson on the topic “democracy.”

Class, the term originated from two Greek words: demos, which means “people”; and kratos, meaning power.

Alright, class! Can anyone please tell me now what democracy means? Correct! Rule by the people!

Technically, of course, and given that there will forever be opposing views on any given issue, “people” refers to the majority of the citizenry.

There is something very basic to the notion of democracy. Although Political Science books will tell you that a democracy is as ideologically different from a monarchy like an apple is not an orange, they are both based on the same premise of the strongest ruling.

Classical monarchies were as ideologically sophisticated as the sort one observes in a tribe of baboons or a herd of buffaloes. The alpha male was always the strongest, the bravest and the most virile, no different from how early human tribes selected their monarchs. These monarchs, needless to say, had their own armed thugs for when the other testosterone-rich males in the kingdom decided to throw in a challenge.

The Greeks of ancient Athens who, of course, evolved the notion of governance by the majority, were way ahead in their thinking and drew strength from numbers instead of the muscular bravado of a single man.

I am, of course, being hopelessly guilty of over-simplification. Still, it is unthinkable for any of you to miss the parallelism. Suskupo Rudeh naman! Even sa suntukan, the guy who looks like He-Man, Master of the Universe, wins even just the intimidation contest na lang! Of course, in the event of a frat rumble, magtawag ng brad is top of the protocol. Strength in numbers, that is so common sense...

Sigue! Since you’re all falling asleep, bring out a half sheet of paper for a surprise quiz! O ano! That woke you up, didn't it?

Now, working along the premise that democracy ought to, in a perfect world, operate from a position of strength, can somebody please tell me why democracy in this country always teeters on the karibok?

Ano!? Because there are too many entertainment personalities running for office? Wrong! UpĂ´ sa basurahan!

You! Yes, correct! Because there are too many political parties, too many candidates for each position, mixed and overlapping ideological platforms and a huge personality- rather than issue-based voting population...

Let us do the simple Maths. In an election for which there are, say, five candidates, and assuming that each gets an equal number of votes, each stands to win a mere 20%!

Since that scenario is highly unlikely and the race more often than not becomes two- or three-horse, reducing the remaining candidates to no more than a nuisance or pambasag ng boto, then a candidate can actually win with 30% or so of the votes. That's 21% or so less than a simple majority and not all a position of strength.

Put another way, that means a winning candidate assumes office knowing that 70% or so of the voting population actually and humiliatingly chose somebody else. Now, there he is facing a job that involves governing them. Piece of cake in a country where being right is a national obsession!

In this collective bargaining process which we call politics, at its most basic, there are really only just two alternatives available to the citizen exercising his or her right to suffrage: to keep things as they are; or to change. It is because everyone has a “how” to effect the second option that life in this country is oh-so-colorful...

Sticking to technicalities, do we even have a democracy in this country given that a government can operate on a minority mandate? Bring out that half piece of paper and answer this question.

And this time, it’s for real...

[Footnote: Equality and freedom are also among the basic foundations of a modern democracy. Both are, of course, relative. Still, the fact that there are so many candidates, each advocating ways to effect change, perhaps remains the biggest indicator that democracy is alive and kicking in this country.]

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