Friday August 17, 2018

Lidasan: Insights on the recent Barangay elections

ONE of the sad parts of being in a democratic society is having a “defective” electoral system. It is defective in a sense that there is massive vote buying and electoral fraud committed by candidates in order to win an election. If this defective system is not fixed, then our whole society and governance are affected. There will be no moral ascendancy of our local and national elected officials.

Bangsamoro communities, like other communities in the Philippines, is not homogenous. We have a culturally diverse and plural society. In most cases, because of a defective electoral system, families and communities are divided, which sometimes lead to violent conflict. Let us take for example the May 2018 Barangay elections. There were reports of different election offences committed by the candidates and their supporters. Election offences under the Omnibus Election Code, Article XXII, defined the Prohibited Acts - Section 261; and Other Election Offences - Section 262.

Under Sec. 261, Prohibited Acts included Vote-buying and vote-selling and defined as,

(1) Any person who gives, offers or promises money or anything of value, gives or promises any office or employment, franchise or grant, public or private, or makes or offers to make an expenditure, directly or indirectly, or cause an expenditure to be made to any person, association, corporation, entity, or community in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate or withhold his vote in the election, or to vote for or against any aspirant for the nomination or choice of a candidate in a convention or similar selection process of a political party.

(2) Any person, association, corporation, group or community who solicits or receives, directly or indirectly, any expenditure or promise of any office or employment, public or private, for any of the foregoing considerations.

The word of the law is very specific and it gave details on how “vote buying/vote selling” may be committed. But, has there been any candidate or person ever charged, prosecuted, and convicted of this crime? We all know that this is happening during every national and local election. However, we also need to recognise that there are communities, villages, and municipalities who are free of “vote buying/vote selling”. They have mature voters who understand the importance of the electoral process in a democratic system.

According to a study conducted by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), “Vote-buying and vote-selling obstruct the democratic process, yet they remain pervasive in many developing democracies.” The study also mentioned, “The Philippines is an electoral democracy, but corruption and a lack of transparency continue to undermine democratic development. Elections have historically been marred by fraud, intimidation, and political violence. While vote-buying and selling has decreased in recent years, it is estimated that about 30% of Filipinos were offered money by a politician or local leader during the 2010 election campaign.”

Understanding the local context is very important for us to have effective governance and delivery of social services. However, this all starts in having fair, honest, and clean elections. People are saying that it is a vicious cycle of poverty, poor governance, and defective election process that corrupted our system of government. The question now is, what do we do in order to address this problem?

Studies have shown that there is no single electoral system that is likely to be best fit any democratic system like the Bangsamoro communities.

Ben Reilly and Andrew Reynolds, in their article entitled “Electoral Systems and Conflict in Divided Societies”, said that “The optimal choice for peacefully managing conflict depends on several identifiable factors specific to the country, including the way and degree to which ethnicity is politicized, the intensity of conflict, and the demographic and geographic distribution of ethnic groups.” In Maguindanao, there are barangay or village elections where the different families agreed to have only one candidate, from the kagawads to the chairman. Hence, there is less conflict and violence. In some cases, these are effective because prior to the actual conduct of elections, these families agreed to support only one line up of candidates. (Ben Reilly is a senior programme officer at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance based in Stockholm, Sweden. Andrew Reynolds is an assistant professor in the Department of Government and International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, USA.)

Reilly and Reynolds also mentioned that, “the electoral system that is most appropriate for initially ending internal conflict may not be the best one for longer-term conflict management. In short, while electoral systems can be powerful levers for shaping the content and practice of politics in divided societies, their design is highly sensitive to context.” What then is the context within the Bangsamoro communities? What set of leaders do we have? What election system best suit our people? I will try to answer this question in my next column.