THE elections are over; the counting is not. The fate of the top pick in this year’s polls—and the next President of the Republic—no longer rests in the hands of the voting public but rather on vote-counting machines, unseen technologies, and complex procedures that we can only hope has not been rigged, and on a few unelected officials appointed in a partisan process but whom we expect (or hope) to be non-partisan.
Whatever the results may be, we can be almost sure that, based on recent survey results, the winner of this year’s presidential elections will not be elected by a majority of Filipinos.
So from the very start, the country’s next President enters into office with a serious handicap—that he or she does not enjoy the trust and support of the majority of Filipinos.
Chosen by some but rejected by more, the next occupant of Malacañang will be a minority President, just as it has always been since the first post-EDSA election some 24 years ago.
Not a few analysts blame our toxic political tradition on the country’s plurality voting system—enshrined in the 1987 Constitution—where a candidate can be elected with less than a majority of the vote. Based on a concept called “first past the post,” a candidate wins in a plurality voting system even with a small percentage of the vote as long as it is the highest percentage as compared to the other candidates.
In 1992, Fidel Ramos won the presidential elections with a plurality of only 23.6 percent from among seven candidates. Interpreted differently, Ramos was rejected by three of every four voters.
The winners in the succeeding three elections didn’t fare much better, although they won by bigger pluralities: Joseph Estrada with nearly 40 percent from among eight aspirants (1998); Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with 40 percent from among five candidates (2004); and PNoy with 42 percent from among six hopefuls (2010).
Although our elections are generally free in that voters can vote for a candidate of their choice and each vote has the same worth as the other, not everyone agrees that our elections are fair, mathematically at least. Why? Because under our current voting system, the vote for anyone other than the winning candidate is completely disregarded.
If there are more than two candidates, each with sizeable support, such as in the May 9 polls, the winning candidate need not get 50 percent plus 1 of the votes in order to win. So, in effect, the majority of votes cast are “lost.”
A renowned mathematician, Prof. Ian Stewart, explains the problem of a voting system like ours this way: “Suppose 15 people are asked to rank their liking for milk (M), beer (B), or wine (W). Six rank them M-W-B, five B-W-M, and four W-B-M. In a plurality system where only first preferences count, the outcome is simple: milk wins with 40 per cent of the vote, followed by beer, with wine trailing in last.”
“So do voters actually prefer milk? Not a bit of it. Nine voters prefer beer to milk, and nine prefer wine to milk—clear majorities in both cases. Meanwhile, 10 people prefer wine to beer. By pairing off all these preferences, we see the truly preferred order to be W-B-M—the exact reverse of what the voting system produced…
“In the example above, simple plurality voting produced an anomalous outcome because the alcohol drinkers stuck together: wine and beer drinkers both nominated the other as their second preference and gave milk a big thumbs-down. Similar things happen in politics when two parties appeal to the same kind of voters, splitting their votes between them and allowing a third party unpopular with the majority to win the election,” Stewart said.
We can adopt a fairer voting system but that will require a constitutional amendment, an unlikely event given the ordinary Filipinos’ allergy to charter change.
Of course, having a majority President is not a guarantee of a better outcome.
Philippine-style democracy has seen the country’s slide from the second most progressive in Asia to the perennial bottom-dweller. All the while, the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer.
Our seemingly dysfunctional democracy brings to mind what the late Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew once said: “The ultimate test of the value of a political system is whether it helps that society establish conditions that improve the standard of living for the majority of its people.”
As a Singaporean journalist put it, “Freedom is being able to walk on the streets unmolested in the wee hours of the morning, to be able to leave one’s door open and not fear that one would be burgled… Freedom is knowing our children can go to school without fear of drugs… Freedom is living in one of the least corrupt societies in the world, knowing that our ability to get things done is not going to be limited by our ability to pay someone.”
Does this sound familiar?
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My warmest congratulations to the newest members of #TeamDPTLaw, Atty. Mary Ann P. Olalia, of the Ateneo Law School, and Atty. Mark Anthony A. Asuncion, of the San Beda College of Law, and to all the 2015 Bar exam passers. Welcome to the legal fraternity, compañeros and compañeras!