Election cycles and our personality-based politics

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

For the past four election seasons, I have received offers to be on the ticket of local parties in my hometown in Cebu north. A few months ago, a relative of mine who is also a lawyer asked me if we could run together for a local post under the wings of a promising congressman. I politely declined, saying that I have no plans transferring my voter registration in the city to our hometown to meet the one-year residency requirement.

Although I have no doubts in my ability to do a good job as an elective official, I have long decided that I could do a better job serving the community on my own terms. Not that I detest politics and politicians. I know quite a few who are good at winning, and better at keeping their promises to their constituents.

When I say that I want to serve the community on my own terms, I mean the terms that identify with my firm views on politics in general and winning elections in particular. Even if it is a long shot and even it may not happen during my lifetime, I still hope and will work for issue-based politics to replace our predominant personality-based politics.

I have seen enough election cycles in my adult life. I am no longer impressed with personality and patronage. In our current political setup, it matters less what a candidate stands for and more on what image and character he can project to the voters. In the larger geopolitical context, this is the reason why foreign powers could easily toy with our leaders as the latter do not have strong political parties to back them up.

A personality-based political system simply banks on a leader’s popularity in the polls. A leader then becomes too focused on keeping up appearances in the social and mass media. He forgets why he is in power and what he must do while in that position – address policies and issues to defend our sovereignty and freedom and improve the quality of life of our people.

If a politician’s rise to power is mainly built on image-making, such outer appearance of strength and performance will later give way to a politics of bravado and divisiveness. It will unravel a series of decisions based on personal loyalty rather than on competence and political ideals. In fact, we have seen enough of it leave a trail of broken promises in its path.

Philippine elections remind me of “for-profit” colleges in the United States. According to a recent Netflix documentary about student loans in the US, commercial colleges need to make money to please their shareholders. As a result, these colleges tend to spend less on teaching competency and more on advertising and recruitment.

In similar fashion, politicians do whatever it takes to win elections. So they tend to focus less on values, principles, ideologies, policies and issues, but more on image-building. Tragically, many people still fall for such stunt.

On the other hand, some pundits argue that issue-based politics is a Western concept and does not apply to Third World political cultures. While, indeed, personality-based politics cannot be entirely removed from our electoral system, the opportunism that it breeds weakens our country’s bargaining position in the global political environment.

Our political leadership simply becomes a hollowed-out stone shaped by those who have no qualms of changing their positions and party affiliations based on a popularity game. That game is now being played out in an information environment dominated by fake news and misinformation.

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