IN a few days, almost 50 million of us will head for the voting booth to choose our next President, Vice-President, Congressmen, half of the Senate, and thousands of officials at the local level.
The May 9 election will not be the end of the dramatic struggle to install new leadership for the country, but only the beginning.
Based on the best available information—voter preference surveys, both public and privately-commissioned, the assessments of dozens of election observers, and the anecdotal evidence of people’s preferences expressed in the form of banners, posters, car stickers, t-shirts, and those ubiquitous “baller bands”—it seems a virtual certainty that the winner of the presidential race next Monday will only claim about 34 percent of the vote, perhaps even slightly less than that. And that is a serious problem.
This election campaign has been one of the most contentious and divisive in our memory—and for a few of us here at The Manila Times, that covers quite a number of years. The tension is only going to be aggravated when the closest thing to a consensus that we will be able to manage with our odd election system (assuming the actual voting goes as planned, which is not even certain) is a winner who can claim victory only by virtue of gaining enough votes to represent a minority that is just a percentage point or two larger than the next candidate’s minority.
If a majority of 60 or 70 percent of voters didn’t vote for the winner, it would be difficult for them to not feel cheated; even if candidates and their supporters conduct themselves with absolute probity and good manners, our system guarantees the practical disenfranchisement of many voters, because it takes away the sense that citizens of stronger democracies feel, that the system is working for the common good even when the results are not what one might have wanted. Little wonder, then, that a gracious concession of defeat from a losing candidate is an extremely rare thing here; very few of those defeats are unequivocal.
It will be up to the winning candidate to reach out to that majority who favored someone else. The winner must reflect on what attributes of his or her own opponents appealed to voters, and be willing to adopt good ideas. The winner must be prepared to justify his or her policies, and be willing to entertain disagreement, because that is how policies evolve to be relevant to the largest number of people.
It will be up to the winning candidate to find someone trustworthy to keep near at hand, if only to tell the new leader “No,” when it needs to be said.
For the rest of us, we need not completely let go of our right to disagree if the President is not the one we would have chosen, but we cannot express that in a way that diminishes our community and our country. Respect the law, and respect each other. We need not wait to be directed by a President or any other politician to be good neighbors; after May 9, good neighbors are exactly what this country, rubbed raw by too much partisanship and campaign rancor, will need to heal itself.