Saturday, May 09, 2009

Run-Off Elections for President

With one year to go till the May 2010 elections, there are 18 individuals who have signified their interest in running for the presidency or whose names have been "floated" in the mass media as possible "presidentiables." They are the following (in alphabetical order):

1. Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay
2. Quezon City Mayor Sonny Belmonte
3. Vice President Noli de Castro
4. Senator Chiz Escudero
5. Former President Joseph Estrada
6. MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando
7. Senator Dick Gordon
8. Senator Loren Legarda
9. Senator Ping Lacson
10. Senator Kiko Pangilinan
11. PLDT Chair Manny Pangilinan
12. SC Chief Justice Renato Puno
13. Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio
14. Senator Mar Roxas
15. DND Secretary Gilberto Teodoro
16. Senator Manny Villar
17. El Shaddai Head Mike Velarde
18. Jesus is Lord Movement Bro. Eddie Villanueva

Six months from now the list will become shorter - sagging survey ratings, decreasing campaign contributions, lack of machinery support from established political groups, internal power struggles within their campaign HQs, etc. are just some of the usual reasons for the collapse of many a campaign. Judging from previous elections, the presidential race will eventually boil down to just six or seven contenders. It is impossible at this point to predict who among the 18 will be the winner in 2010. But I am certain that the next president will not be able to garner more than 50% of the vote and we are again looking at a minority-elected president in 2010.

In the belief that giving our people more choices is better than just limiting it to just two or three, the framers of the 1987 Constitution instituted the multi-party system which encourages the participation of as many political parties and candidates as possible in elections. This logic is well and good if you're shopping for an anti-dandruff shampoo but, if applied to politics, is problematic and this multi-party system has in fact turned our elections into a circus. Nowadays, presidential elections in the Philippines are more like free-for-all wrestling matches instead of mano-a-mano boxing bouts. Surely, a melee (or in Ilonggo, rambol) is not the best way to pick out the best fighter. It's like, in boxing for example, in determining who is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, we put in Manny Pacquiao, Oscar dela Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. all together in one grand bonanza fight. Similarly in presidential politics, having six or more candidates running all at once is not the best way to pick out the best of the lot. This is why televised debates, which long have been a staple of presidential politics, are no longer relevant today because even if say Mar Roxas proves he is a better debater than Manny Villar, he still has to prove to the electorate that he is also better than Chiz Escudero, Noli de Castro, Ping Lacson and Loren Legarda - some or all of whom might decide not to bother to appear in the TV debate. As a result, presidential campaigns are no longer about party platforms and policy debates but about who has the most money, who has the most "recall" and who has the best ad "gimmick."

In an election with six equally-strong candidates, one can win even with only 25% of the vote, as Ramos did in 1992. Hell, Erap got only 40% of the vote in 1998 and most people considered it a "landslide" already. In today's political equation, Chiz Escudero could very well win the 2010 election by just winning in Bicol and Metro Manila or Mar Roxas by just carrying the three Visayas regions (Regions 6, 7 and 8). We may very well see in the near future a president elected by a mere 15% of the voters in a hotly-contested election with 10 or more serious candidates.

Unless we can find a way to whittle down their number to just two or three candidates, I am afraid that the Philippines will continue to have minority-elected presidents. We have to have a "weeding out" process like in the United States where they have the primaries wherein the Democrats and Republicans choose their best (which sometimes also means the most "winnable") candidate. The closest "weeding out process" we have are the surveys by Pulse Asia and SWS (but even then there are individuals whose ambition to become president is such that they simply refuse to abide by their survey ratings no matter how low, as we have seen in previous elections). The American primary system ensures the election of a majority president; Obama for example garnered 69,498,215 votes which represents 52.9% of the vote while McCain got 59,948,240 votes or 45.7% of the vote in the last 2008 elections. In contrast, all our post-EDSA presidents were minority-elected presidents: Ramos in 1992 got only 24%, Erap in 1998 got 40% while GMA in 2004 garnered about 39% of the vote.

This is why I support the bill filed by Iloilo City Congressman Raul Gonzalez, Jr. that would require a run-off election in case no candidate for president and vice president garners more than 50% of the total votes cast in the election. House Bill No. 6183 primarily seeks to prevent the election of a minority president and I will cite its Explanatory Note here because it pretty much explains the reasons why we need a majority president:


Even before his term of office begins, a minority-elected president is already at a great disadvantage. Instead of “hitting the ground running” so to speak, a chief executive who is elected by a mere plurality or less than 50% of the total votes cast, first, would have to strike alliances with various political groups in order to solidify his hold on power and govern more effectively. Lacking the confidence of a decisive mandate, the newly-elected minority president understandably would be averse to introduce necessary but unpopular reform programs and would be more susceptible to the influence of vested interests.

All of our post-EDSA presidents were minority presidents. Fidel Ramos in the 1992 elections got only 24% of the vote. Despite being reputed to be very popular among the masses, Joseph Estrada, only managed to get 40% of the votes in 1998 while our incumbent president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, got about 39% of the votes in the last 2004 elections. By contrast, all except one of our pre-EDSA presidents were elected by majority vote. Manuel Quezon got 68% of total votes cast in the 1935 elections and a resounding 82% in 1941. In the 1946 elections, Manuel Roxas received 54% of the vote while in 1949, Elpidio Quirino got 51%. Ramon Magsaysay won in the 1953 elections with a decisive 69% of the vote while Carlos Garcia prevailed in 1957 by a mere plurality of 41% of the total votes cast. In 1961, Diosdado Macapagal defeated Garcia garnering 55% of the vote while in 1965, Ferdinand Marcos in turn routed him cornering likewise 55% of the total votes cast. Marcos would go on to win in the 1969 elections getting 61% and in the 1981 special elections with an unbelievable 91% of the vote.

This bill proposes to modify the way we choose our presidents and vice presidents by requiring that to be declared winners, candidates for the two highest positions in the land must garner at least 50% of the total votes cast in the election. In the event that no candidate has garnered more than 50% of the vote, the bill provides for a mechanism wherein another election may be held between the top two presidential and/or vice presidential candidates not later than three (3) weeks after the first election. Necessarily, this proposal for a “run-off election” entails that a “surgical” amendment to the Constitution be made, specifically in Article VII, Section 4.

What our country needs today is a strong national executive who possesses a clear and indubitable mandate from the people so that he can have the necessary political capital to deal with vested interest groups, implement difficult reforms as well as unite our nation especially during crucial times. If allowed to continue, the current plurality system will eventually lead to a situation wherein a candidate could get himself elected president with a mere 20% or even less of the vote in an election wherein there are eight or more solid contenders.

I think what the Explanatory Note leaves out is that a majority president will also discourage future military adventurism and coup 'd etats in the Philippines. In the book "Before Gringo: History of the Philippine Military 1830 to 1972," author Donald Berlin detailed a plan by disgruntled military officials to launch a coup 'd etat first against President Elpidio Quirino in December 1953 and then President Carlos Garcia in October 1958 but their plans fizzled out partly because, although the two were not exactly the most popular of Philippine presidents, they were nonetheless voted and enjoyed the support of a significant portion of the population. Ousting a president during those era would have thrown the country into a civil war and just the thought of this possibility would have sent chills in the spines of even the most disgruntled military officers, no matter how serious or valid their gripes were. Nowadays, a minority-elected president, elected by say 23% of the voters, is much easier to oust than a majority president because any charismatic and politically-astute soldier can cobble up popular support from the remaining 77% of the population who did not vote for that president, enough to legitimize and ensure his stay in power.

I believe that Filipinos in general are already sick and tired of so many self-appointed "presidentiables" promising reforms and peddling themselves as messiahs that will lead this country out of its poverty. It used to be that to be considered "presidential timber," a politician first has to show exceptional leadership qualities and a good track record of public service, and even that is not enough to be elected president. Today, it seems that any Tom, Dick and Harry can aspire for the presidency. During the period of the two-party system in the Philippines, there was an "elimination round" for presidential wannabes thru the party convention. A party convention was held by the Liberal and Nacionalista parties wherein their respective ward leaders choose from among their ranks the best candidate for president and vice president. Thus, the system ensures that there are only two candidates for president come election day. Those days are gone and I don't think that we can return to the two-party system given our recent political history. But we can change the way we choose our presidents and vice presidents by making sure that they are elected by a majority of our people thru a run-off election.


Ame Mami said...

So you're from Iloilo too, huh? Well, me too. I've just read your spooky story of CPU...hahaha... I'm a CPU student ya' see... The Roselund Hostel isn't so scary...try visiting Johnson's Hall or The Roblee Science hall...The latter is more scarier...hehehe...

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