The effectsof vote buying

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Many people I’ve met said that money flowed like floodwaters (Gabaha ang kwarta!) prior to and during the May 9 elections. So before this election month of May comes to an end, let me ask you a serious question: How do you solve a problem like vote buying?

Let me share my observation from talking with several people on both sides of this so-called electoral trade --the vote buyers and the vote sellers. The latter include those who took the money offered by all contenders and then elected the highest bidder.

In Cebu I talked to friends, relatives, and colleagues. In Mindanao where I went last week on a business trip, I chatted with politician-friends and some local community folks who admitted to having a part in this practice.

I noticed that talk about vote buying is like a conversation about some mischievous but harmless thing one did in high school. The practice is reduced into a cultural relativistic discourse. In general, people accept the proposition that in the totality of their social environment, vote buying is not per se immoral. And believe me when I say that there’s no judgmental bone in my body discussing this with people.

Interestingly, Professor Hendra Try Ardianto of the Universitas Diponegoro, Indonesia, wrote an article about vote buying in some Asian countries including the Philippines, which he presented during the 2020 International Conference on Indonesian Social and Political Enquiries. I came across his work through Google Scholar as I was researching about this topic.

Ardianto observed that the mere existence of electoral democracy did not automatically present a democratic social and political order. It is usually the oligarchic elites who hijack and ultimately dominate the democratic system through various methods including vote buying.

Poverty and lower education have been cited as the primary reasons why voters sell their votes. Then there’s the patron-client relation or the norm of reciprocity. To the electorate, “the election is a time for harvest.” It’s time for politicians who forgot about them after the last elections to share their wealth, loot, and perks with the people.

But those are not yet the interesting part. We are familiar with the causes of vote buying, but not its effects.

According to Ardianto, vote buying hijacks the electoral process in many ways. He cited research showing that citizens tend to find it difficult to reject the practice of vote buying because refusal to receive money from a certain candidate can be interpreted as choosing that candidate’s opponent, or choosing to reject the generosity of a patron or landlord. Vote buying, in fact, has led to social tension and violence in many areas.

Another casualty of vote buying is accountability. Vote buyers tend to be corrupt. And they also tend to favor certain constituencies at the expense of equitable and efficient distribution of public resources. In regions in the Philippines where vote buying is rampant, local governments tend to neglect basic services especially the health sector.

Vote buying also lowers the quality of the elected leaders. It narrows the choice down to leaders who can afford, in both the financial and amoral sense, to buy votes. “Political parties lose their dignity as a channel for political aspirations and aggregation of citizen. The end of all of this is people no longer believe in political parties.” If this kind of phenomenon continues, people's trust in the entire political system will undoubtedly be damaged, Ardianto wrote.

Next week, I’ll share Ardianto’s proposed four solutions and which one among the four he thinks is the best solution.


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