Our presidential election institution


(Part 2)

Nations across the world choose their leaders in different ways. In Europe and in some parts of Asia, national leaders are chosen indirectly. In fact, indirect election of leaders appears to be the most common method if we judge by the number of people governed.

Our direct election for president. The Philippine system of direct election for the choice of our leader follows the American example. Most electoral practices in the country were learned from American processes, beginning with the two-party system of governance.

The two-party system was dominant during the Commonwealth years until the political break that was marked by the martial law period, followed by the succeeding governments. The peak-year of single-party dominance was during the Commonwealth.

Manuel Quezon received 67.9 percent of the votes cast for president in 1935, but he beat this in the election of 1941 when he garnered 81.7 percent of the votes cast.

Many attempts of third parties and splinter groups to enter the electoral ring with the major parties have ended in failure during repeated presidential election cycles. The major party candidates had dominated the leadership struggle in the presence of third-party challenges.

Before 1973, the only Philippine president who received the weakest electoral return of 41.2 percent of the votes cast (essentially, a minority president by the definition of 50 percent plus at least one vote to define a majority vote) was Carlos P. Garcia (a Nacionalista) in 1957. In that year, the losing presidential candidate, Jose Yulo (Liberal), received 27.6 percent of the total votes, a third candidate 20.9 percent, and four others 10.9 percent.

The current system of choice of presidents is markedly different from the pre-1973 period and especially after 1987 (People Power). As I mentioned in last week’s column, the present system is essentially multi-party in character, especially during the electoral process.

This has led to the election of presidents from among several aspirants – sometimes about four or five relatively strong candidates – who essentially chip at each other’s voting strength so that when the votes are counted, no one wins by a large margin. The end result of this is that the elected president wins by a plurality of votes over the other candidates.

Among the post-People Power presidents, it was Fidel V. Ramos who had garnered the lowest percentage of votes in 1992. He won only 23.8 percent of the total votes cast, while Miriam Santiago, the second best got 18.9 percent. There were then four other strong candidates (Danding Cojuangco, Ramon Mitra, Imelda Marcos, and Jovito Salonga) who together accounted for 42.4 percent of the total votes cast.

In contrast, Noynoy Aquino’s presidential plurality win was marked by the highest votes percentage, 42.08 percent with loser Joseph Estrada (who ran for the post again) receiving 26.2 percent, while seven other candidates received 31.6 percent of total votes.

Weak party, but personalistic, strong leadership. The leadership style of the elected president determines how the program of government gets done or fails to get done fully. Party electoral platform has never been a major determinant of the outcome of a president’s accomplishments. The force of personality, ability, and decisiveness are more important characteristics that determine the success of programs and projects put in place.

The presidency of Fidel Ramos (1992 -1998) accomplished a lot in getting the country back on the track toward progress after setting in motion corrective measures to get the country out of the energy crisis that arose from the serious mistakes of Cory Aquino, who disrupted the energy program of her predecessor.

Once elected president, Ramos utilized the powers of the presidency to get many other elected leaders to rally behind him. Despite a difference in party affiliations, coalitions can be altered to enable the new leader to perform his tasks. This, of course, leads to political turncoatism – the changing of party labels and loyalties.

So, political balimbings are aplenty at the beginning of a new presidency. The newly elected president goads others, who belong to other political persuasions, for their support. Through incentives and other strategic bargaining for support, new political alliances are forged. That is how an effective leader often gets government programs to push through. (Note: the cross-section of the balimbing fruit is many-sided, like that of a star with multiple sides.)

Within this political system, political loyalties and affiliations begin to differentiate as the presidential term nears its end, as in the Philippine case because of the provision of a one-term presidency. If the president is less successful or less popular, this process accelerates.

Indirect election of national leaders. Most of the countries of the world choose their leaders through an indirect method, not through direct election.

The direct election of political leaders is essentially a practice associated with American democracy. It has been followed by some democracies mostly, but not exclusively in the American continent. Two other populous countries, Mexico and Brazil, elect their presidents by direct popular vote like in the United States, but under different procedures.

For most countries, including those mainly from Europe, the choice of national leaders is through indirect elections. The leaders are taken from their parliaments whose members are directly elected, but normally by limited regional areas like districts or regions of the country. The winning or dominant political parties elect from their members the national leaders who become prime ministers. Hence, the prime ministers are indirectly elected through the votes of their members.

If no single party dominates an election, then coalitions of parties determine through negotiations and other political processes who becomes the leader of a coalition of parties that rule the government.

The most populous countries – China and India, – choose their leaders indirectly. It is through the indirect rise of parties who dominate the politics.

In India, the pattern of choice follows the British practice of choosing the prime minister: the dominant parties or the dominant coalition of parties choose the prime minister.

In China – a one-party government ruled by the Communist Party – the nation’s leader is chosen indirectly through the party. Eventually, the choice of who is the nation’s leader is through the election of the general secretary of the Party who is the chosen supreme leader.

The current leader of China, Xi Jinping, derives his main power from his position as general secretary. He also holds the office of president, which is voted by the National Congress. This consolidates what used to be two different offices, the more powerful of which is the post of general secretary.



For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/


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