The limits of political power
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - October 13, 2020 - 12:00am

The current power struggle for the speakership in the Lower House of Congress, and the peripheral power maneuvering among the congressmen and affected politicians are examples of flexing political powers. The next Philippine election is 20 months away, and those with ambitions for extending their term or gunning for higher offices want to be in a position of power. The remaining 22 days to the US presidential election have the Trump administration exercising the full array and force of the office of the presidency to its constitutional and legal limit in its political campaign. But like all human endeavors, the use of and exercise of political power has its limits.

In political history, political power is acquired via inheritance in states where the people were hoodwinked into believing in the divine rights of kings, or by the use of force by a stronger group thereby subjugating the vanquished, or by controlling the economic assets of the state, or by the consent of the governed. Over the course of recorded human history, these or a combination of them were the way to political power.

Most politically-powerful persons have tendencies to maintain, expand, and prolong their power by succession, alliances, and force. Succession is self-limiting due to lifespan considerations and the incompetence of subsequent generations. Alliances will only last as long as the interests of the allied parties are congruent and falls apart when it conflicts. That there are no permanent alliances but only permanent interests is not even true, as interests change over time and circumstances. Alliances are most volatile and short, and this is best demonstrated by the formation of a coalition majority in the Philippine Congress every time there is a new president, and the break-up of the coalition when the term of the president ends.

The use of force to retain, expand, and prolong political power is what is happening in most authoritarian governments in some countries. Dictators, tyrants, despots, and military juntas use the threat of force and the exercise of force to stay in power. Some war-torn nations in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin American countries are examples, and the Russian and Chinese governments are exhibiting these tendencies in their governance.

Economic dominance is another way to retain political power, so governments of all spectrum, from communism to liberal democracies to dictatorships, want a big part of their economies to be controlled by the state. This is done via state-controlled corporations, state regulations, or designated crony capitalism. The weakness of this strategies are; the proven inefficiencies of government and crony-controlled corporations compared to a private corporation, and the disincentive of over-regulation to private and foreign investments which is a major component of any economy.

While only 50% of the almost 200 countries in the world can be considered democracies with major semblances of freedom and liberties, even the non-democratic countries are practicing or drifting to free-market economics. Command or totally controlled state economies cannot equal the efficiencies and effectiveness of private entities in the production, distribution, and innovations of goods and services that are driven by the profit incentive. And this liberalization of their economies plants the seeds of political liberalization which will be the biggest limitation in the perpetuation of political power in non-democratic governments.

History is full of stories of the rise and fall of political power and some regimes were lauded for the duration of their reign. But they all fall, and the harsher they are, the harder the fall. Modern history, due to a more aware and informed population have factored, “the consent of the governed” a democratic principle, as a dominant limiting factor of political power. The protest actions, demonstrations, civil disobedience, and people power revolutions all over the world in the past 50 years are illustrations.

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