Solutions to vote buying  

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Continuing from my column piece last Tuesday; so how do you solve a problem like vote buying?

As I wrote in my Tuesday column, talk about vote buying in the Philippines has been narrowed down into a cultural relativistic discourse. Many people say that in the totality of our social environment, vote buying is harmless and not per se immoral.

We should never accept such proposition. The words of a good professor in Taiwan four years ago still resonate with me. He said that it was when the voters rejected vote buying in the city of Kaohsiung that the city started to transform from a dirty, disorganized city into one of Asia’s best.

The impact of vote buying is already well-documented; corruption, social tension and violence, and low quality of elected leaders. It may seem like things are alright. But it would only take one major geopolitical crisis for all that we have built as a nation to fall like a house of cards.

I had mentioned the scholarly work of Professor Hendra Try Ardianto of the Universitas Diponegoro, Indonesia. He has a comprehensive take on the issue of vote buying based on various studies undertaken in Asian countries about the topic. Ardianto found four solutions against vote buying; making vote-buying a crime, socialization and political education on anti-vote buying, reforming political parties, and strengthening civil society's bargaining position in electoral politics.

The first solution is the most resolute but is also the weakest solution. Our election laws in the Philippines have long considered vote buying and selling criminal acts. But not one politician has been charged and convicted of vote buying. That is because the crime is hard to prove. The only proof of rampant vote buying (which could not stand in the court of law) is that all sari-sari stores in the neighborhood suddenly run out of stocks the day after the election as consumers flock there to spend their election day windfall.

The second solution is better, but one that takes time to implement and produce results. Depending on the communication strategy, a campaign to educate the people about the negative effects of vote buying may find it hard to resonate with people. Remember the cultural relativistic discourse that I mentioned earlier? It’s hard to change people’s perception when the very practice that you are talking against is already embedded in a community’s political culture.

The third solution is what Ardianto described as slightly utopian but reasonable. Reforming our political parties is hard to do in the Philippines where there is really no functioning political party system. For this third solution to work, it has to be tied to the three other solutions. I’m not sure if in our lifetime we would be able to see ideology-based parties like that of the Conservative and Labor parties in Europe or the Republican and Democratic parties in the US.

What is clear today is that our people have never identified themselves with the political parties. Political parties in the Philippines exist merely as a vehicle for the ruling elite to play the political game of musical chairs. This seems to work from a purely governance point of view; after all, people are still allowed to elect their leaders based on the latter’s merits.

But ultimately this makes us weak in the sovereign and geopolitical sense. The system, to be frank, is no different than when we were a direct colony or vassal of powerful countries.

The fourth solution, according to Ardianto, is to strengthen the bargaining position of civil society in electoral politics. This to him is the best solution. “With a strong civil society, the power relations between politicians and citizens will be more equal.”

He cited research that showed that systematic movement of civil society in electoral politics is able to weaken patronage politics based on vote buying. Note that it’s not just individuals but actually entire communities which are responsible for the emergence of vote buying practices during elections.

Thus, building communities through civil society engagement from the ground up will have significant impact in changing people’s perception and behavior. We should encourage each member of the community to be involved in organizing themselves for their common interests. It will take time, a very long time, in fact. But it can be done.

“Making citizens have a strong political position will automatically remove the anti-political system and the vote-buying practice itself,” Ardianto said.


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