Are we over-governing political campaign activities?

In recent days we’ve been seeing a few new “movements” and “advocacies” emerging (or being repackaged) as dominant topics amongst the chattering classes. Many of these involve one or another form of implementing some sort of “governance” around the way the Philippines’ wondrous cacophony of activity and voices that is its “democracy” work their way through.

I broadly categorise the nature of governance these “movements” aim to put in place into the following buckets:

(1) Control over the manner with which candidates for office pitch their qualifications to the voting public;

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(2) Control over the timing with which said candidates undertake said pitches; and,

(3) Control over where these pitches occur.

philippine_election_2013The last item I feel is the most relevant to me. Where politicians and public officials display their “messages” to their constituency matters. When they do so on public facilities — like government vehicles and public (tax-funded) buildings and structures — they violate the public in their role as trustees to those assets. That part I’m pretty clear about.

As to Items 1 and 2, I’m a bit less fussed. I always thought the whole point of democracy is to put in place a self-correcting mechanism on a grand macro scale. After all, if the notion of that so-called “people’s will” is what underpins all this grandness, then why not allow said will to sort it all out?

There is such a thing as over-governance. Modern-day A-List philosopher makes it one of the pillars of his thesis in his most recent book, Anti-Fragile. Systems that are governed rigidly and centrally from the top are inherently fragile. Their stability generally degrades slowly over a given period then fails catastrophically in an epic collapse. That’s what happened to Soviet and Eastern European communism. They declined over the cold war then suddenly collapsed in the 1980s.

Democracy is necessarily messy both figuratively and literally. But its bottom-up nature is what is supposed to be the key feature from which its strength comes. Presumably it will sort itself out as “the people” get savvier in the way they wield this “power” all the demagogues are insisting is in their hands. But if Philippine democracy remains a mess, well now, wouldn’t that be an eye-opener of a revelation about the character of the people who presume to practice it?

The interesting thing about “movements” to limit campaign theatrics is that their loudest voices come from people who make theatrics their biggest mode of delivery for their “activist” rhetoric. Ironic, isn’t it? You wonder then whether “movement” leaders who favour theatrics over careful articulation of well-thought-out conceptual frameworks are really the sort of people one could expect a resonable debate on the issues to flow from.

Last I heard, “democracy” really is a form of government to allow the larger society to shape their government and, by transitivity, their society. That brings to question the wisdom in limiting the volume, colour, and timing of the wondrous variety of information that engulfs the senses during any of the Philippines’ renowned fiesta elections.

Manila Times columnist Ben Kritz put it quite succinctly a while back…

Simply attacking the practice of epal only addresses a symptom of a far bigger social dysfunction in this country, and a relatively minor part of the methodology by which that dysfunction is institutionally perpetuated in the electoral system. From top to bottom, this entire society is driven by personality and patronage; take away the politician’s signs and they will find another way, because that is the preference and expectation of the vast, dull mass of the Filipino voting public. And frankly, “What have you done for me lately?” is not such an unreasonable question for a voter to pose to a prospective candidate or re-electionist.

For us who like screaming “Power to the People!” with raised fists, isn’t it about time that we give them a bit more credit with regard to their prerogative to sort out the available information for themselves? I thought that was what “Freedom of Information” was all about…

12 Replies to “Are we over-governing political campaign activities?”

  1. De-mockracy

    Comelec making a mockery of the elections

    Early campaigning, free spending, epal candidates mocking the law

    SWS surveys pre-conditioning voters, as they mock up results

    Candidates muck raking ( guess that’s good for a laugh)

    “An able, independent, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know what is right and the courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery.”
    Joseph Pulitzer

  2. When senatorial candidates spend over 100 million on campaign, it is critical to know in advance of election day who is funding them, and more importantly, the cost of elections is a real barrier to entry ensuring that the choice is limited from the outset and the same dynasties dominate.
    How on earth would bam bum aquino even be on the slate if it wasnt to perpetuate dynasty influence and with cojuangco-aquino money. The ninoy lookalike should go into entertainment not politics. He alone shows how ridiculous the whole event is. Arrogance meets opportunism.

  3. Some control on the real problem – the sale of his vote by Juan de la Cruz – would be useful. The trouble with Juan is that he is a simple, honest, soul, and he stays bought until he is back outside the polling booth.

  4. it is so easy to scam/con filipinos out of money ( aman futures and others), that conning them at election time is childs play.
    no wonder politicians just use karaoke and free t-shirts plus a ‘ follow the herd’ mentality exploited by the cojuangco-aquino owned SWS.

  5. The real solution is to change the electoral system. It’s actually rooted in the Constitution, actually. But besides addressing that, maybe a law on a run-off elections in case of a minority president may solve that. But that’s it, first-past-the-post with everyone counted individually sucks. I still think electoral college in the US is a lot better than what we have here.

  6. elections in the Philippines= a real low-class Chinese whorehouse!
    democracy is bottom-up? what? where did that come from? a voting bloc maybe? Shit rolls down-hill, from the top down!
    what exists in the country is a scam,democracy? no, a scam, plain and simple.
    the wealthy run the entire country and control every facet of every business, every life and anyone who disagrees will disappear.
    WHO is anyone kidding if they think it is other-wise?
    Change, hahahahahahahahahahahah! good luck with that!

  7. Just like a corporation/multinational, a country is both influenced by, and representative of/represented by, its leaders.
    They both shape and reflect a country’s culture and values, not just domestically, but also internationally.

    Individually, there are many hard working filipinos struggling on a day to day basis, but still managing to smile, be stoical, and in my mind too accepting, and subservient, almost to the point of being afraid to express an opinion – the scars of martial law live on.

    At a macro level there are the most despicable individuals in high office, invariably through cheating, murder etc, and who then act with complete immunity whether stealing, scams, bribes, illegal businesses etc.

    One only has to look at the composition of the senate – who are supposedly the best of the best – has been actors, money launderers, illegal logging, illegal gambling, human rights abusers, fugitives, coup plotters , infidelity everywhere. Lies and corruption on a mammoth scale. The flotsam and jetsam of the gutter. And no one who has achieved in the corporate world where their limitations and lack of work ethic would soon be exposed.

    Certainly noone from the civilised world can take them, and therefore the country seriously.

    The fabric of society is unravelling as crimes become bolder, as criminals manage to evade justice either by leaving the country or bribing judges.

    You dont have to get up very early to outwit PNP or motormouth de lima.

    And with more non-achievers from political dynasties likely to be elected in 2013 then clearly the rot continues and there will be no foreseeable change in the next 10 – 15 years minimum.

  8. we know it is going to be a fraudulent election – the obvious signs are there already – it is simply a question of how fraudulent.

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