Friday, January 22, 2010

Why choose the lesser evil?

This coming national election in the Philippines will not be an ordinary one.

While a successor to incumbent president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be crowned, the election can also be a prelude to a possible shift to a parliamentary system of government if Arroyo wins her congressional seat in Pampanga and becomes the new Speaker of the House of Representatives. Everyone knows that Arroyo wants to continue as leader of the country and this is her last chance to force an amendment of the Philippine Constitution by way of a constituent assembly.

It will also mark the holding of the country’s first fully automated synchronized national and local elections with about 16,655 elective positions up for grabs by at least 90,000 candidates and close to 48 million voters participating. There are major gridlocks expected. The Automated Election System has been criticized for lack of transparency and other major technical inadequacies that could engender massive fraud. Automated cheating is said to be foreseeable and the failure of an honest election a possibility.

There are sectors raising the alarm that the elections might likely result in a constitutional crisis leading to a holdover presidency. Assuming the elections are able to hurdle the glitches of an automated system, still the most important consideration that the electorate must confront is the political agenda that each presidential aspirant is offering to the people. Are there articulated platforms that distinguish the candidates from each other? Do they represent meaningful reforms in public governance and possible changes in people’s lives? On the other hand, are they more or less the same?

The theory of the “lesser evil” that drives people to favour a candidate from the other has been with us since we became free to elect our country’s first president. Especially when there are no marked significant differences in what the candidates bring to the table. Before, we were used to a political duopoly whereby we had only two indistinguishable choices, either the Liberal Party candidate or the Nacionalista Party candidate, or whoever is the lesser evil of the two. With multi-parties and nine major presidential aspirants, we now face a fallacy of false choices, or simply the choice of who is the least evil of all.

Is the lesser or the least evil the best choice?

Despite the number of presidential candidates to choose from, our limitations are defined by their lack of meaningful and distinct strategies in restoring faith and hope in a government that has been riddled with lack of accountability, corruption, abuse of presidential power, an ineffective justice system, human rights violations, etc.

It seems that all the candidates are simply offering themselves as a mere replacement for a highly discredited president – and not the necessity of instituting meaningful reforms. The real question is what they will do when elected president, rather than simply put a new face in Malacanang. Their record of performance, their financial, political and other ties, and their philosophy of governance, not their media bites and sounds, will determine if they have the wherewithal and moral standing to deliver once elected to the highest office in the land.

When there is not much hope for this to happen, voters become boxed in by the lesser-or least-evil option, which is not the best alternative if people really want political transformation. This lesser-evil or less-nefarious theory makes no sense in our present situation where meaningful reforms are badly needed because the government cannot afford to keep taxing the people’s hope and faith in a system that is rotten to the core.

The choice between a bad or a less bad candidate seems an unconstructive and self-defeating option. It is an apathetic attitude, an acceptance of our own powerlessness. It reflects a fundamentally pessimistic approach to life and disregards the potential for creative alternatives.

It advances the old argument that one should only cast a useful vote rather than a principled one. It is based on the perception that change can only happen within the present body politic, thus enforces the status quo in place and can result in the frustration and disenfranchisement of many.

If we consider ourselves an integral part of our nation’s long historical continuum, then the lesser evil conundrum has no place in it. We should not be content with less evil; rather, we should stand for what is right. Evil is evil no matter that it is less. To do the right thing must be our goal even if this takes our whole lifetime to achieve.

Some may criticize this as plain naïveté and that a refusal to participate or not to vote could be a waste of time. The system cannot be changed through democratic means, they would say. What is really needed is a revolution. A revolution, indeed, might be the only alternative if we continue our willingness to embrace the lesser evil, instead of shunning the system so that it will take notice. The issue is about convincing people to express their voice at the polls and demand that real alternatives be offered.

The “civil society” movement in the Philippines is growing stronger. It offers real and meaningful alternatives that respond to the people’s clamour for effective leadership and governance as well as social and economic reforms. Reforms cannot be entrusted to traditional politicians who have repeatedly failed so miserably, and who are the ones to be blamed for our country’s political, social and economic disintegration.

This coming election will also gauge how much this movement can influence its outcome. If nothing positive happens, there is always the next election before we head for the hills.

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