Legacy politicians can get elected in developed economies without robbing the voters of their right of suffrage. The reason is simple. Contending political parties offer opposing campaign planks that give voters a real choice on what kind of government and policies they want. The personalities matter but not that much – they are just stand-ins for party platforms and principles.
Just look at the example of the US in an age of extreme political polarization. In 2016, voters have two options. The first is a political party that wants tax cuts for the rich, scaled-down social safety nets and cutting government to the size of a burrito. Tied up to the gun lobby, it wants the unimpeded right to carry guns even in public places and generally frowns upon anything that would favor the legal rights of the LGBTs. Climate science is generally considered a hoax.
The second party is the opposite of the first and the putative frontrunner of the second party even wants to strengthen labor organizing and raise the minimum wage. Instead of promoting “right-to-work,” which is a code name for destroying trade unions, the frontrunner is advocating the strengthening of the right to organize.
So voters have a choice. And psycho-analyzing the traits of a candidate and weighing on his or her gravitas are essentially pointless.
In these developed economies, what you get is not a pool of candidates with clueless, blurred and non-divergent views on governing philosophy. They stand for something and the party leader, once elected, will adopt the party stand on most issues. In short, voters base their choice on issues, not personalities, despite the losing efforts of mainstream media to portray elections as catfights.
Filipino voters do not have that choice. And this is the best argument to try something new and bold in 2016 – break away from our past and elect a fresh face as president. From 1946 to now is enough. As voters, the best gift that we can give to our country and ourselves is the will to take a break from tradition and go for a political face with no association with a political name and with no ties to legacy politics.
Indonesia, by electing Jokowi as president, recently did that. Why can’t we? If there is any Asean country that can’t seem to unstuck itself from legacy politics, it is Indonesia. With its umbilical cord to dynasties cut off, we might as well follow Indonesia’s lead.
Other than fulfilling that lofty ideal, the act of voting against legacy politicians and perhaps injecting the element of meritocracy into our body politics, there is a pragmatic reason for going for a fresh face. If that fresh face frustrates us, if he were to turn into the usual scoundrel, we can say we are used to that ritual of electing leaders who initially gave us hope and dash that hope later. No loss there.
If that fresh face exceeds our subliminal expectations, then there would be cause for mass rejoicing and celebration.
The gallery of presidential wannabes, this is another pragmatic case for voting for a fresh face, does not inspire voters. There is no single file urge to line up behind one candidate. There is no compelling message from either of the wannabes either. The presidential election of 2016 may turn out to be the year people trooped to the polls because it was a civic duty to troop to the polls.
Let us look at the gallery.
Candidate B wants to take us to a Utopia, via the replication of what he did when he was LGU head. Nothing wrong with that as his campaign is built on solid accomplishments, which many voters can see with their naked eyes. The problem is the taint thrown his way, which is more than enough to make the Tammany players candidates for political sainthood. There will be more, and before the presidential campaign ends, he will have enough corruption charges that will keep the court dockets busy for a century.
Candidate C can outtalk Dick Gordon, which we thought would never happen in the higher echelons of politics. The problem is that his talk is 99 percent about the failings of others. He seems so focused on finding the fault of others that he has forgotten that politics is about hope and a better life. He is precisely languishing in the polls because of this. He has forgotten contemporary political history. A black man promising “hope and change” can become president of the US.
Candidate D talks as tough as Bibi Netanyahu, from a big southern city context. He can take us to the next World War, just the way a minor assassination triggered the first World War. The main problems of the country right now are economic in nature and a law-and-order plank may not resonate with voters.
Candidate P can’t seem to decide on whether to run or not. She can’t seem to discern on whether or not the platitudes that come her way from the mainstream media and the pundits are for real. She does not even seem to have a gauge of her own strengths and weaknesses, on whether she can take on the presidency or not. One cannot run for president on overwhelming ambivalence.
Candidate R, at this early stage, has been tagged a loser. His polling numbers bluntly say he can’t get out of his political Hades and win the presidency. He is seen by the general voting public as an uninspiring flag carrier of heartless technocracy. If all polls say, “loser, loser,” then it is time to drop the dream.
All of the above are tied up, one way or another, to legacy politics. Rejecting them would not cause the nation grief.