FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

This election cycle, it seems, the political party system is being degraded each day.

The biggest insult, so far, has been the decision of several presidential candidates to include in their senatorial slate candidates already declared for their rivals. One might call the practice “candidate poaching.”

This never happened before. In the past, and only very rarely, political parties have adopted “guest candidates” in their senatorial line-up. The last to be honored by such adoption, if I recall correctly, was Miriam Defensor Santiago – and only because, well, she was Miriam.

Three presidential camps indulged in this practice of “candidate poaching:” those of Manny Pacquiao, Leni Robredo and Ping Lacson. To be fair, the Lacson camp had declared its senatorial line-up ahead of the others, only to see their candidates poached by the Pacquiao and Robredo camps.

Of course, the candidates being poached (or “shared”) are those rating quite well in the voter preference surveys. Either that or they bring with them reliable command votes.

Raffy Tulfo, “shared” by at least two presidential camps, is an example of the former. He rates first in nearly all preference surveys.

Joel Villanueva is an example of the latter. He has built a political career out of the command votes of the Jesus is Lord evangelical movement.

It is clear that the present practice of “sharing” senatorial candidates is for the sole purpose of improving the chances of the presidential contender – never to honor the “adopted” candidates for the Senate. Campaign tacticians calculate that poaching/sharing senatorial candidates will help them scrape in more votes. Campaign tacticians are always the most cynical of the lot.

But what does the practice of candidate poaching/sharing say of the presidential candidates? Or of those senatorial aspirants shared by rival camps?

The “shared” senatorial aspirants are, by categorical imperative, inhibited from endorsing any of the rival presidential candidates in whose slates they also appear. But can they appear onstage with any of them?

On the part of the presidential candidates, the poaching/sharing of senatorial bets indicates that all ideological and programmatic boundaries between the political parties have been erased. This has become a free-for-all contest where the survivors will have only their high name-recall to thank.

Of all candidate-poaching camps, it is that of Leni Robredo and her bizarre mix of the senatorial bets that drew the most internal controversy. Her senatorial slate seems to defy the laws of political gravity and principled electoral contention.

Together in her senatorial slates are candidates who would otherwise be irreconcilable. There are Jojo Binay and Antonio Trillanes, Leila de Lima and Dick Gordon. Seeing them sharing the same stage is a spectacle on its own. This is the ultimate in cynical politics.

Leni’s strategic trajectory might have made her senatorial choices predictable. Although she remains titular head of the LP, she filed as an independent. She justified this by saying she wanted to “unite” the “opposition.” Her wild mélange of a senatorial slate tells us what “uniting” the “opposition” meant.

Recall that Ping Lacson confirmed an attempt by the Leni camp to poach his running mate, the popular Tito Sotto. We have not heard the last of Leni’s “principled” politics.

In a television interview yesterday, Raffy Tulfo confirmed he is in talks with the Leni camp – and also with the camp of Bongbong Marcos – for inclusion in their senatorial slates. Having topped the voter preference surveys for senator, Tulfo could be the son of all camps. This could explain why Leni mystifyingly left one slot open in her senatorial ticket.

A disappointed Neri Colmenares, however, blamed his exclusion (so far) from Leni’s List on objections raised by Trillanes. This raises another vital question: To what extent is Trillanes able to dictate on Robredo?

So disappointed were the leftists at Colmenares’ exclusion that even CPP chief Joma Sison, all the way from his sanctuary in the Netherlands, raised a howl. The leftist national democrats claim a solid voting base of 3.5 million. That is probably inflated. They have never won a national elective post and their share of the party-list seats diminish with every electoral cycle.

Between the NDF and the Jesus is Lord movement, the latter appears to have the more reliable vote-delivery capability. Also, the NDF has a long history of treating elections as opportunities for fund-raising. That track record is not very encouraging for potential allies.

At any rate, all the cynical maneuvering we have seen the past few days is not good news for those who wish to see electoral democracy in this country mature on the basis of a strong political party system.

Only with a strong political party system can we build a political class of statesmen, reared in the vital issues of the day. Political parties enforce a layer of accountability on office-holders and introduce predictability in transitions from one government to the next.

Without a strong political party system, electoral democracies degrade into exactly the condition we find ourselves in now. Elections become popularity contests. Politicians without a clue get themselves elected into serious legislative or policy-making posts.

Every national election becomes an occasion for uncertainties to rise. Since they are not elected on the basis of a program of government guaranteed by a political party, every new set of leaders adopt policies on the basis of what suits the mob at the moment. This makes our policy architecture slippery and prone to abrupt and unexpected shifts.

The nation cannot progress on the basis of an immature electoral democracy.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with