THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: The demise of real political parties

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/07 April) — It’s unfortunate for our electorate that the days of formal political parties seem to be gone. As we approach the 2016 elections, party labels still survive in people’s memories, but not what they stand for.

For example, name any group today that claims it is a political party. (Nacionalista, Liberal, Lakas-NUCD, UNA, KBL, KAMPI, whatever.) Now, explain what it stands for, its platform, and how it differs from the others.

If this were a quiz, most people would flunk it.

Or try a simpler question: what party sports the slogan “Matuwid na Daan” as its overarching platform? Now, explain what it means and how it applies to any aspect of governance. Not so easy, no?

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Political parties are important. They are a political system’s quality-control mechanism. They recruit and nominate candidates for public office. They screen them for qualification or fitness for public service.

In their role of providing a platform of government, then championing it and the programs that actualize it, parties are essential for translating public preferences into public policy.

They also help organize the competition during elections—by mobilizing citizens who support their platform and candidates, by registering and activating voters, campaigning, and providing resources to candidates.

Parties are important for sensitizing the citizenry to public issues that should concern them or that affect the wellbeing of their community.

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By far the most crucial task of a political party is nominating candidates; not just nominating them any old way but openly, properly, fairly, and honestly as befits the rubric of democracy.

The PROPER way to nominate candidates democratically is through a PARTY CONVENTION attended by accredited delegates; delegates usually chosen by members of local chapters in villages, towns, or cities.

And this is the crux of the problem. Holding a convention presupposes having bona fide members—whose rank and file constitutes its pool of potential candidates, plus delegates who vote to ratify the standard bearers.

Since the so-called parties today are really just personal election vehicles and not public-interest associations, they have no bona fide members to speak of, which is why they’re not receptive to debates or exchanges with other candidates or “parties”.

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With no dues-paying members and no properly-screened or accredited delegates, they can’t rightly hold a convention. How would they determine who attends, who speaks, who votes on motions, or who acts for the party?

That’s why all we hear are talking heads that claim to be a spokesman for this or that politico. They’re really paid mouthpieces or accomplices to a conspiracy to win office in consideration of lucrative positions in the event of victory at the polls.

Without an honest-to-goodness party convention—with platforms openly debated and nominations openly voted on, guess what happens? The alleged political party falls back on a deep-pocketed oligarch with vested interest—usually his interest in becoming the standard-bearer.

It’s no secret that such oligarchs serve as substitutes for a real political party. Without real “party members” and no dues collected, the oligarch’s money and organization provides the necessary logistics—with him calling the shots as “party leader” or standard-bearer, of course.

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And that’s what obtains among the nation’s so-called political parties today. The “party leader” as its financier, lead fundraiser, or the conduit of funds received from alleged contributors.

This reality, along with its shady characters (remember Pwersa ng Masa, Jose Velarde, and Jaime Dichaves?), has bastardized our party system. Even the so-called “party list” groups are co-conspirators to the perpetuation of this ugly reality.

So flagrant and shame-faced has this reality become that some party “leaders” don’t even bother to pretend that their “party” is anything more than a personal vehicle for election. It’s not even clear how they got to be party “leader” since no party convention takes place anymore.

Thus, sporting the name of a party today means almost nothing, merely a label. Except for one or two groups, none even pretend to recruit, organize, or conduct party-building activities any more. It’s not even a team that moves around since it’s mainly the so-called party leaders and their close-in operatives who are visible.

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Gone are the days when pursuing political objectives was a team effort—the team formed for their sterling reputation, their public service record, or their learning.

To be sure, there are a few groups that insist they are real parties. Of course they’ll insist; no one cobbles a group together with great ado and expense, then admit it is fake.

Such groups should produce their lists of members and chapters and programs of government. It’s a free country, a democracy, but no one should be free to fool people and get a free ride on bogus claims of legitimacy.

And do be wary, because as in much of the manufacturing industry today, where robots replace people on the factory floor, politics today can be played by proxies, puppets, and robots deployed by well-financed political machines. And remember: there are still billions of cash that are unaccounted and are capable of financing grand deceptions.

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. An author of books on governance, he is chairman/convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. [email protected]