THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Our democracy needs authentic parties

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/20 September) — It’s our society’s misfortune that not a single individual vying for national or local leadership today can claim to belong to or represent a real, functioning political party.

They may produce a certificate from the Commission on Elections naming their “party,” but do they hold nominating conventions or caucuses, produce a platform duly-ratified by their membership, or indeed, do they have card-carrying members?

It is sad that even as we want to straighten out our social order and make democracy thrive, we forget that these momentous tasks require social and institutional—not individual—approaches and processes.

We look to individuals, not to institutions or processes, to enable us to attain our society’s objectives. We then let these individuals, often with dubious credentials, dominate the agenda for our Republic.

It wouldn’t so bad if we had mechanisms for qualifying and selecting them; but we don’t, so we end up with presumptuous, self-nominated oligarchs aided by a narrow clique with vested interests.

It’s appalling that our society—Asia’s very first democracy—has bastardized the role of political parties, not even requiring them to have credible members, platforms, and processes that enable the electorate to identify and take a stand on public issues.

The dysfunctional nature of these alleged “parties” make it impossible for voters to make intelligent or informed choices.

It explains why our elections degenerate into a sort of ukay-ukay or rummage sale of candidates who buy votes and cause chaos.

As if that isn’t bad enough, politicking and campaigning now resemble the game played by gambling or crime lords out to dominate the market—employing foul play, dirty tricks, and all—further causing the deterioration of our society and its culture of corruption and impunity.

With our population of over 100 million, we are a big democracy—which you can’t run properly without parties. With so many ambitious individuals vying for attention and endorsement, an orderly process for screening and validating candidacy is essential.

For this purpose and for the other necessary tasks that ensure orderly elections, we need a party system and bona fide political parties, as is the case in other democracies.

Parties lend structure to the electoral competition—from recruiting and qualifying aspirants, to formulating platforms and explaining issues to various publics, to organizing debates and managing election campaigns.

Parties are also unifying institutions; they bring together cause-oriented groups that subscribe to their platform, helping people make decisions on what stand to take on issues. And when victorious at the polls, parties translate public preferences into policy and programs.

Recruiting and proclaiming candidates in an open and democratic way (as ratified by party conventions) help legitimize the elected policy makers—and also help organize the machinery of government.

Through the men and women put in office by party members, people can influence government decisions and actions. And having properly functioning parties ensures that candidates pass certain criteria and possess basic qualifications.

Parties are also mechanisms for disciplining candidates and officeholders along with the assumption that they also discipline their members. Part of the discipline is the expectation that their officeholders act according to party principles or platforms—else they won’t be allowed to run again under the party label.

In other words, winning candidates are expected to implement their parties’ policies and platforms when in office, which is a measure of the extent to which they keep faith with their social contract.

But are all these wishful thinking?

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 Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc.