“A significant amount of political responsibility should accrue to one’s membership in a political party, and changing party affiliation should not be taken lightly or carelessly done.”
All politics are local, it is often said. But the current state of politics in the country seems to disprove this long-held view. With every shift in national politics – and with every survey results, local politicians have been left with no choice than to tread carefully around supposed national alliances and party allegiances.
In an unexpected twist, for example, the supposed monolith of a political party lost both its presidential and vice-presidential candidates who withdrew their candidacies after the November 15 deadline on the substitution of candidates. Recent survey results tend to be as fluid as this month’s political happenings, leaving many local political candidates in a conundrum on where to place their allegiances in the upcoming elections.
But there is one lesson to be learned from this – election reform should be a priority in the next term. There is an urgent need to review our existing policies on at least three aspects: political party reform, the nomination and substitution of candidates and automatic registration of voters.
Political party reform is long overdue. First and foremost, there is a need to emphasize, both in policy and practice, that political parties are public institutions. Thus, a significant amount of political responsibility should accrue to one’s membership in a political party, and changing party affiliation should not be taken lightly or carelessly done. If we were to ensure the growth and maturity of our political parties, there is no other option than to strengthen safeguards in establishing political parties, and regulating political party membership.
For example, as in many European countries, party membership should be declared in one’s voting record. True to its character as a public institution, a person who intends to join a political party must register one’s membership before the election registrar. This way, it would be difficult to change party membership whimsically, or simply on account of some convenience or even mere technicality.
Many have pointed out the need to veer away from politics shaped by personalities, to that of a politics anchored on political platforms and programs. This is, of course, ideal — but the inconvenient truth is that in an actual political exercise, plain ideologies and other abstractions alone would not suffice to influence or direct electoral choice. Personification of these abstractions is necessary, as every idea needs a voice to articulate it. This is why our politics appear to be fixated on personalities, rather than on platforms and programs.
Strengthening political parties would significantly help correct this malaise. Instead of the undue attention given to a single individual who is expected to personify any or such position on current issues of concern, a political party would not only elevate the level of discourse, but it will also effectively serve to inform and educate the voters on the pros and cons of issues. Thus, collective action would prove to be more compelling and intentional. Even with a change in administration, a strong political party system would guarantee continuity in government policy, thus addressing long-term social and economic challenges.
But how do we sustain political party reform? Only if we tie it up with the nomination and substitution of candidates. In many countries, nomination quotas are imposed before a particular political party is able to nominate a candidate. Say, for example, before a specific party can nominate a candidate for governor, it should meet the required nomination quota. If the quota is a party membership of at least two percentum of registered voters in each of a majority of municipalities of the province, for a party to field a candidate for governor, said political party should have a membership equivalent to at least two percentum of the voting population, in at least fifteen, if there are 20 municipalities.
Similarly, before it is able to field a candidate for president, a political party would be required to have a registered membership of at least two percent of the voting population in 56 out of 81 provinces in the country. Thus, if a party intends to have a candidate for the highest position in the land, a focused nationwide constituency building should be part of the plan.
Imposing nomination quotas would prove to be an effective and commensurate incentive for party membership and constituency building. If party membership would be entered into one’s voting record, then the election registrar can easily establish if the nomination quota has been met. If the party fails to meet the nomination quota, then it would not be able to field a candidate for that position. This would correct the seeming prevalence of nuisance candidates that frankly speaking seem to desecrate the electoral process.
Independent candidates, however, also would need to reach the nomination quota, albeit a higher one, for example, five percentum of the total voting population.
With nomination quotas in place, it would then be necessary to require holding political conventions, with election authorities in attendance and even conducting party primaries beforehand – thus eliminating the need for substitution of candidates.
There are also other reforms needed to strengthen our political parties, such as government financing based on electoral performance, and the ban on changing political parties after an election. In many countries, elected officials who change political party membership effectively lose the positions to which they were elected; they are barred from running under a new party for at least two election cycles. In case an elected official would no longer want to be part of the political party, one is left with only one choice – go independent and that means meeting a higher nomination quota in the next elections.
Lastly, automatic voter registration. The right to suffrage is at the very core of the social contract upon which governments are founded, and to which obligations of citizenship are bound. Thus, elections are meant to include, not exclude, voters. Unfortunately the current process of voter registration causes, at times, the disenfranchisement of a number of voters.
With the ongoing rollout of the national identification system, it is now possible to identify all Filipinos of voting age and extract their biometrics data, without a need for a separate voter registration process. Given the current use of an electronic voting system, it would be possible to simply migrate the database to the voting system, with sufficient safeguards to prevent “flying voters” and other forms of election fraud.
So, the next time we vote, all we have to do is simply show up on election day with our national ID on hand. That would be more than enough for each of our votes to be cast, and for local election registrars to verify, because, after all, all politics is local.