Tell it to SunStar: Double-edged legacy of political dynasties

SunStar Tell it
SunStar Tell it

By Herman M. Lagon

Disputes over political dynasties have raged since immemorial, sparking discussions about fairness, democracy, and leadership. The truth is more complex than that which is sometimes presented when all political families are criticized at once. There are many good public officials and many more corrupt ones in politics, so there is plenty of room for passionate debate about the real effects of dynastic politics.

The political and economic fortunes are subject to the ebb and flow of dynasties, which have become an integral part of our society. It would be easy to look at them with cynicism; after all, they do tend to consolidate power, restrict democratic options, and maintain an elite grip on political issues. These families have the power to limit competition, creating an environment in which new ideas and innovations have a hard time taking hold.

But there is some good news. For some political families, the name “dynasty” has come to represent reliability, advancement and widespread support. Few cities and towns have experienced dynastic leadership that has resulted in good government, with creative projects and accommodating policies being the rule rather than the exception. These rare breeds have proven that political families may, under the guidance of capable and principled leaders, spur development and elevate community standards.

But we must not ignore the risks of dynastic governance. The quality of government declines when family ties take priority over competence and when power becomes overly concentrated in the hands of a small number of families. Corruption and patronage politics might flourish unfettered under such an unjust and inefficient structure, endangering our democratic society as we know it.

What matters most is how these two aspects of a dynasty are balanced or not. For some families, holding public office is a birthright; for others, it is a means to an end, and they put their interests ahead of the public good. This contrast begs the critical question of how political dynasties have affected the country’s democracy and socioeconomic climate.

We must remember that the issue is not merely the presence of political dynasties, but also the absence of rigorous oversight and controls that permit the maintenance of their less admirable characteristics. Even if it bans political dynasties, the Constitution is only valid with enabling laws and its actual implementation. Unchecked dynasty politics can flourish in this legislative vacuum, which is terrible for political pluralism and equity.

Economic inequality and social mobility are broader socioeconomic issues reflected in the debate about political dynasties. Ordinary Filipinos have difficulty climbing the socioeconomic ladder due to merit and hard work alone since these families control substantial political and economic resources, perpetuating current social structures.

We must recognize the very few dynasties that have done their best to improve the lives of their subjects and, in many cases, brought about revolutionary shifts in their communities. Many members of these families believe that the stability and consistency brought about by their long political careers are essential for the success of development initiatives spanning many years.

But there are many much more instances where dynasties have failed to deliver, becoming emblematic of the fundamental problems that afflict politics in every case. Therefore, it is necessary to cultivate a political climate that allows all citizens to serve in the public sector, choosing candidates based on their vision and abilities rather than their family tree.

For this problem, the best action would be to establish regulations that promote more openness and competition in politics so that no one family can gain too much power. With this method — including the hope for a wiser, principled, discerning, and militant electorate — everyone would be on an equal footing, and politics would become more vibrant and representative.

Backed with the lessons of the past, we must never stop asking what part political dynasties play in our culture. We must work together to demand changes that are true to democracy and partial to human rights. We must ensure that government is a duty that belongs to the people and not a privilege enjoyed by a few.

Ultimately, political dynasties do not automatically harm a nation’s democracy, but, as much evidence suggests, they threaten and damage it without adequate checks and balances. Moving on, we must find this middle ground, ensuring that public servants constantly consider the country’s most significant interests and democratic principles. If we are serious about building an equitable, inclusive and just society, we must take the difficult but necessary step of reform, if not total transformation.

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