FASTLANES: Weak states and election troubles. By BenCyrus G. Ellorin

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/22 August) —  Yolanda, a simple woman in her late 40s,  travels to Cagayan de Oro from Tagum City every three years. She saves money from her salary as a baby sitter for such trip. Juvil, a government worker in his late 20s, drives his motorcycle a hundred kilometers to Malaybalay City after a full day of serving as a campaign volunteer distributing sample ballots to the hinterlands of the city.

Both Yolanda and Juvil do these sacrifices to cast their vote. Voting is such an important civic duty of every citizen. Yolanda and Juvil however are two of a kind. They seem to be the exception than the rule.

Mitchie, a campaign volunteer of a presidential candidate had to turn off her cellphone, much to her chagrin, the night before the election as angry supporters demanded from her where is their “ulan-ulan” or money in exchange for voting for a certain candidate.

I drove around the city on the eve of the May 10 election and you see droves of people milling around the streets, as if waiting for messiah to come. In my neighborhood, a group of people stayed until early in the morning talking about who gave how much. The figures ran from 20 to 50 pesos from a candidate for city councilor, to 200 to 500 from a congressional candidate to a high 1,500 pesos for straight voting.

In a 2006 book Failed States: The abuse of power and the assault on democracy Noam Chomsky included in his enumeration of reasons for failed states the inability of governments to provide reasonable public services, widespread corruption and criminality, sharp economic decline, among others.

In a democracy, government plays a very important role as it is the agency of the state where in the power to enforce laws and realize the collective aspirations of the people is lodged.

Election is central to any democracy. It is the periodic exercise by the people, the sovereign source of the powers of the state to elect their leaders or those who shall administer or serve as managers in the government. For democratic elections, like what we had last May 10, 2010 to be credible, it has to be fair, peaceful.

In countries with weak or failing states however, as characterized above, it is always a challenge to have these elections as credible.

Despite the attempts at modernizing our election with automation, it still cannot be said 100% that the results of the ballot count accurate captured the will of the electorate.

In the context of the Philippines, failure of the electoral process is not just through cheating in the elections but is just the sum of the many defects in the whole electoral exercise.

The goons, gold and guns are still lords of the election.

Analysing and addressing issues of vote buying, for example is incomplete if we only analyse and bash the politicians we call the trapos. Of course, vote buying is the lording over of money in elections, making our elections the monopoly of the rich.

After so long however, vote selling seems to become the normal thing making candidates raise funds even from unholy sources just to satisfy this market demand.

The other end of the vote-buying plague are the electorate themselves, how they behave. Vote selling has become the norm.

How this aberrant behaviour transformed into something that is socially acceptable is an interesting study.

I was riding a motorela (motorbike drawn carriage)in barangay Nazareth a few years back during barangay election. In the motorela, two women were talking about the election. Both of them complained of poor services from the Barangay Health Center and agreed that corruption perhaps was the reason. Then they talked about the election. One of the women told the other woman to advise her son, a voter for the Sangguniang Kabataan (those who vote for SK are aged 15-17), to go to the house of one of the SK candidates as they are giving 500 pesos each to their potential voter. I had to butt-in and told them “unya gabagutgot mo sa pangurakot sa gobyerno” (and you complain of corruption in government).

The government, the state’s delegated authority and the people should have a good, functional relationship. When this relationship becomes dysfunctional, state systems start to weaken or fail.

I think, the social acceptance vote buying is a result of years of having a government that is inept and corrupt.

When people do not feel that their government is taking care of them, they do not care as well. When people ask them to vote for them to become administrators in government, the people become cynical. This dysfunction sustained through years results in a behavioral change.

Perhaps the reason behind people selling their votes willingly is the realization that since politicians will get rich corrupting the resources of government when they win, people thought that they may as well part in advance with that loot, hence, hence they offer to sell their votes. And then the bidding starts. Who gives the biggest cash will probably gets the most votes.

Fixing our society, our country from all its malaise I think should start with reforming our government to be really the effective agent of the realization of the people’s aspiration. This may have become rhetorical but this should be said so often and should be pursued with urgency.

A clean government then has the moral high ground to enforce its laws and create order among its citizens.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Comments can be sent to [email protected])

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