Political parties - what we need are real ones Featured

Fourth of a series

THIS column could best be appreciated within the context of today's deadly internecine fight in the ruling party with an eye on the political upheaval five decades ago. I start from the Marcos dictatorship years, underscoring democracy's loss and subsequently extolling its return in the 1986 People Power Revolution when then-president Corazon "Cory" Aquino declared that her main concern as a "housewife-president" was to bring back democracy. Little did we know then that what she brought back was really just a veneer of democracy. We were so taken with the euphoria of having booted out the dictator Marcos that, looking back now - given the 20/20 hindsight vision - we were in denial.

People are now skeptical whether the five decades of this brand of democracy is right for us. From its inception, the country has inexorably marched toward political oblivion. Our leadership has perpetuated this democratic fiction for so long that its deficits are tolerated as typical and natural to the system. We see by now that the main beneficiary of this deceit is our oligarchy and its allies, the political dynasties. These simply flourish in this type of democracy.

What was meant to be the vehicle for people empowerment, as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, resulted in a proliferation of single-issue political parties championing eclectic though narrow causes under a party-list system: from the interest of farmers and fisherfolk to the advocacies of coconut farmers and banana growers, concerns of the security guards and jeepney drivers, and even the welfare of artists and electricity consumers and cooperatives. A maximum of three slots are allotted through a minimum number of universal votes, adding performers enhancing Congress' already circus-like debauchery. The party-list system, lifted from the German model, was perverted to suit the Filipino politician's penchant for freeloading off resources from government.

On the national level, large political parties are underwritten by party bigwigs, oligarchs and self-proclaimed candidates chosen in the proverbial "smoked-filled rooms." Thus, they retain their prerogatives to dictate what programs and platforms, if any, to present to voters. Political manna constantly flows from the incumbent regime inducing a massive exodus from out-of-power parties resulting in a merry-go-round where opportunistic politicians are PDP-Laban today, Liberal Party in the past regime, Lakas-NUCD before that and KBL during the dictatorship. Tomorrow, they may flock toward Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

Political parties and elections

In this country, elections are seldom the expression of the people's will. It is one dimension of the monopoly of power allowed by a few dynastic families and allies to perpetuate their decades-long hegemony on the body politic, thus stunting society's development. As a corollary to this, the people's lack of civic and political education exacerbates the situation resulting in an immature and subservient political culture.

The abrogation of all these is imperative. The antithesis is the creation and institutionalization of real political parties that could aggregate the varied aspirations of the citizenry giving them options - including the decision to emerge from their ignorance - thus breaking out of the clutches of the dynasties.

In more modern developed countries, political parties are the "sine qua non" of a vibrant democracy. They are not vessels for personal electoral survival and perpetuation in power of dynastic political families. They exist because the citizenry, the wellspring and final arbiter of political power, have diverse issues and concerns that need to be articulated and amplified to a wider political domain. Political parties must provide them with real choices.

From the Centrist Democrats (CD) manuals and literature (www.cdpi.asia, CDP/CDM/CDPI manuals):

"Political parties are the primary vehicles to gain political power by engaging themselves in political contests, primarily elections. The members and their leadership are expected to adhere to a set of principles and strategies written in a platform unique to that party. This espousal of a vision of governance defines the ideological identity of that party - and therefore, the electorate must be permitted a patent choice - as to who must govern them based on what the candidates and their respective parties stand for."

These political parties exist abroad, principally in Germany, Great Britain, and even in the US prior to Trumpism. Their best practices could be adopted, such as dues-paying membership and year-round activities.

Parties must be membership-based

Political parties as in any organization need warm bodies, advocating shared interest, expanding growth of adherents and voters, as means for eventual political control. These activities require logistics from a diversity of sources. Membership dues are the obvious main source. In the Philippines, political party members seldom pay dues. Therefore they have no real stake in them. The real stakeholders are the financiers.

Building solid finances principally from members and like-minded allies and instituting transparent financial management can free the membership from dependence and control of a few rich personalities within.

Off-election season activities

The reality on the ground is that political parties are only active during election season. Off-season, they tend to "hibernate." Ideally in between campaign periods, elected representatives must conduct continuous dialogue with the people and the institutions that govern them. Representatives need constant feedback from citizens so they may understand changing realities on the ground. Throughout each year, their political parties should organize projects and activities, advocacies and internal training sessions with its members participating actively.

They need to strictly exercise internal democratic procedures, from inception and execution of programs and activities to the selection of their leaders or the nomination of candidates for public offices.

They need to impose party discipline, not allowing their leaders or elected representatives in public offices to contradict party policy decisions, except in rare cases of personal conscience-driven issues.

The party must have its own rules for its members to abide by and should be the training ground for the leaders of the country.

Consequently, only parties which are member-based, possessing internal democratic structures and procedures and clear program orientation should be permitted to field candidates for elections. These should all be covered by law.

Reforms needed

To enforce the desired profile of real political parties we need immediate reforms in our political party system short of the 1987 constitutional revisions. Meantime these reforms can be achieved through the passing of the proposed Political Party Development and Financing Act (a bill that has been pending in Congress for several years) which will:

1. Penalize "turncoatism" (or the switching of political parties, "balimbing," "political butterfly") and expulsion from elective public offices and party membership if their acts are deemed inimical to party principles.

2. Enforce transparent mechanisms providing and regulating campaign financing to eliminate graft, corruption and patronage (corporate and individual contributions).

3. Institute strict state subsidy that will professionalize political parties by supporting their political education and campaign initiatives (currently being done in European countries).

No political reform has ever been done by the current regime. But it is not too late while the PDP-Laban though in disarray still has cohorts in Congress and are in control of the legislative agenda. What is lacking is the political will to ram this through.

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Read 615 times Last modified on Wednesday, 21 July 2021 14:28
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