“The propensity to group ourselves according to similar beliefs, persuasions and ideals continues.”
Judea during the time of Jesus was replete with sects and factions, each with their own expression of the Jewish faith. Notable in the Bible are two: the Pharisees who had the reputation of being the most precise in their interpretation of the Jewish law and practice and, the Sadducees, the conservative faction of the priestly and aristocratic class.
There were other groups too who were known to exist at the same time: the radical Essenes who decided to withdraw from Jerusalem to in order to their own hermetical enclaves near the Dead Sea, and of course, the unscrupulous Zealot revolutionaries who were just too eager to drive the Roman occupiers out of Judea.
But the differences between these groups were not simply religious, but social and political as well. The Sadducees willingly collaborated with the Romans, a desperate act on their part to preserve the status quo at the temple of Jerusalem. The Pharisees criticized the priests and aristocrats for working with the Romans, because after all, they discreetly detested the occupation. The Essenes, on the other hand, appeared to have detached themselves not only from the Jerusalem temple, but from the social mainstream of their time. Needless to say, the Zealots were just on the watch for the next revolution that they hoped would put an end to the Roman occupation.
Our human tendency to identify ourselves with like-minded individuals and groups is a fact as old as the birth of human communities. When we are drawn to a particular thought, practice or culture, we tend to connect with these groups on a more or less stable basis. This human phenomenon is very much innate in our own nature, and thus the anthropological basis for the emergence of groups and factions in every aspect of societal life.
So even today, this propensity to group ourselves according to similar beliefs, persuasions and ideals continues. Even in the political sphere, there is a group for every shade of the political spectrum—from the socialist red, to the conservative blue. It would be impossible for us to grow as a political community, and still force everyone to think and act in the same manner, or even to simply dichotomize ourselves into predetermined political groupings. There will always be that differing factor that would make a particular strand of socialism different from the rest. After all, politics should tend more closely to inclusivity than exclusivity, accommodating each and every mode of thinking into an ever growing diversity of ideas and ideals.
The same could be said about partisan politics today. There has been talk about our country reverting to former “two party system”—a political system where there two dominant political parties, one acting as the government or administration, and the other, the opposition. The presumption is that this political form would not only streamline the political process, and consequently remove much of the “noise” and “confusion” of the current multi-party system.
This is where the misunderstanding begins. Proponents of the two-party system believe that this form would be best for our country, as we were better off politically—so they say—before the introduction of the multi-party system. This would allow for a clear delineation of political platforms and principles, and thus afford voters and their constituents a clear cut contrast between the two political parties, in the same way that the US Republican Party has a different political, economic and social standpoint from its rival, the Democratic Party.
That, however, is a too simplistic way of looking at the political scenario. In the first place, having a two-party system does not mean only two parties are allowed to exist. It simply means that at least two dominant political parties would have the ability to run during elections, and the capability to form a government. But it does not diminish the role of third parties—or other smaller parties—to provide a median or an integrated perspective on specific political issues. For example, in the US there exists the Libertarian Party and the Green Party, each having a membership of more than 100,000 each. Another example would be in the United Kingdom where in addition to the more popular Conservative and Labor Parties, one would be surprised to know that there is a third party, the Liberal Democrats whose support was needed by the Conservatives to form a coalition government in 2010 to 2015.
Simply put, a clear cut two party system is near impossible, given the rich diversity of political thought and persuasion in our time. Politicians who inaccurately believe that a two party system is needed or necessary simply do not have a good understanding of how a modern democratic society evolves and grows. It is not the number of parties that matter—but rather, the quality of political leadership within the party, and its rootedness in their own political platform and agenda.
Our politicians should stop nitpicking on the prevailing multi-party system for all the deficiencies of our political structure. In fact, the necessity of having a vibrant and inclusive democratic space should consequently require the creation and growth of several political parties, one as necessary for each and every shade of the political spectrum.
The problem is in the quality, not the number of our political parties. The deficiency is rooted in the leadership of our political parties, and their institutional maturity. Difficult and demanding reforms are necessary for us to achieve a truly inclusive Filipino democracy.
As in Judea during the time of Jesus, the existence of the different sects and factions contributed to the emergence of a strong Jewish identity. They may have disagreed significantly, but they sure agreed on the essentials, a sure and certain antidote to political and social polarization. Perhaps, this is a lesson that we could learn from them, that our differing ways of looking at things could all provide us a much richer understanding of the same truth. Same too with the politics in our time—to disagree does not mean one side is right, and the other is wrong. But instead, the divergence of ideas would enable us to have a more balanced and accurate understanding of existing political and social realities around us.