• World’s stupidest system of electing senators

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    Out of this planet’s 130 nations with representative democratic governments, it is only the Philippines in which voters—52 million of them in last elections—directly elect the powerful Senate consisting of just two dozen people.

    Either the Philippines is the most democratic country in the world—with its voters the most informed and wisest—or it is the stupidest

    Ours is the crudest, most primitive form of democracy, the kind that even philosophers like Socrates and Plato of Athens, where the system was invented over two thousand years ago, had warned against.

    In direct elections conducted on a national basis, the ones elected are only those with name-recall (like incumbents), demagogues, celebrities, and the elite who can afford to pay media to brainwash the masses into voting for them. Candidates are elected not because of their capability and qualifications but because their names merely stick in one way or another in the psyche of tens of millions of voters.

    But this is democracy, and we have no other choice, you might argue. It isn’t democracy, certainly not, but a crude form of a popularity contest, a charade in which local bosses determine who their people should vote for. Most countries in the world have developed systems to prevent degeneration to mobocracy.

    Let’s start with the United States, after which our system of government was ostensibly—but obviously imperfectly— patterned. The 100 US senators are not elected nationwide. The citizens of each of the 50 states choose their senators from leaders who have emerged in their respective states, who have demonstrated their capability to represent them in the US Senate. Not only that, the list of senatorial candidates in most states are filtered by the US primary, in which the two major parties, the Democratic and Republican, first elect who would represent their parties in the statewide senatorial elections.

    Our nation’s first senates were in fact patterned after the US system. From 1916 until 1934 after which the 1935 constitution revised it to roughly its present form, the 24 members of the Philippine Legislature’s Senate were elected in, and represented, each of eleven ‘senatorial regions”, which roughly in an expanded form, corresponded to the present 17 regions.

    The President’s grandfather, for instance, Senator Benigno Q. Aquino, was elected and represented the Third Senatorial District consisting of Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Bulacan.

    Imagine how much better represented each of the regions—and therefore even the most far-flung provinces – would have been if we hadn’t junked the American-period system of electing senators.

    It would have automatically reduced the impact of celebrity-status and media. Voters would be forced to evaluate more seriously who would they elect as Senators to represent them, not in the abstract as a “Senator of the Republic’’ but a Senator tasked to improve the situation where they live.

    If we had a sub-national system for choosing senators, we wouldn’t have an absurd situation in which nearly half of our senators come from one region, the National Capital Region, the country’s media center and base for building up name-recall: Grace Poe and the two Estradas from San Juan; the two Cayetanos of Taguig; Binay of Makati; Villar of Paranaque; Legarda of Malabon; Trillianes of Caloocan; Sotto of Quezon City; and Honasan of Manila.

    If we had not changed the system, voters would still be scrutinizing who is the most capable to represent them in the Senate, rather than just choosing those whose names they have heard of.

    The US system contains the two features that characterize the system for electing upper houses in all of the 77 countries in the world with bicameral legislatures, which account for 40 percent of the 193 countries with democratically elected legislatures.

    First, Senators—i.e., members of the upper house of a bicameral legislature—are chosen on a sub-national or territorial basis, i.e., voters in an electoral district elect them, and not by all voters.

    Some examples of such a system are those in Indonesia (each province elects 4 representatives to its “Regional Representative Council); Thailand (77 chosen by provinces, 73 appointed by a special committee which includes the head of the constitutional court); Malaysia (the “Dewan Negara, ” to which 26 members are appointed by 13 State Legislative Assemblies and 43 by the “King” or Yang di-Pertuan Agong); and India (“Raiya Sabha”, to which 238 members are elected by the states and territories).

    The Senates of Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, and the Dominican Republic whose members number 30 to 36 at first glance would seem like ours. However, they are more like our American-period Senate, with their members elected on a sub-national basis, or by region, province, or a defined electoral district.

    Some of the countries outside of Asia in which upper houses are chosen sub-nationally are: France (348 members elected by district-level electoral colleges); Spain (one to four members elected per province, island, or autonomous region); Poland (40 electoral districts elect 100 members of its Senat; Brazil( 28 states and federal districts elect 81 senators).

    I’ve checked the 77 countries in the world with Senates or Upper Houses, and there just isn’t any country in the world where the members are elected directly by all voters.

    The second feature of elections for the Senate in most countries is that this is done through a party system, mostly through what in political science is called “proportional representation”, something know here as the “party-list” system. The election of senators on a sub-national basis is actually done mostly through what is called as party-voting.

    Voters in a territory or electoral district do not elect individuals, but parties, which then designate their representatives in the Senate. The number of a party’s representatives is proportional to the percentage of the votes it got. This checks any mob’s natural inclination to choose on a personality-basis, or those who are media celebrities and the best demagogue.

    In a party dominated system, citizens are forced to evaluate the issues involved, as these are espoused by particular parties, and a party’s representative in the Senate is bound to pursue the party line.

    Argentineans in each province for instance vote for the parties to represent them in the 72-member Senate. The party with the most votes being awarded two of the province’s senate seats and the second-place party receiving the third seat.

    On the other hand, Japan’s system for electing its 242 House of Councilors is also on a territorial basis (by prefecture), but a mix of direct voting by the people and of the party list system. Out of the 146 members to be voted at a time, voters choose 47 individuals with 96 elected through the party-list system

    Systems for electing senators in most countries are actually complex, developed by their peoples to accurately represent them, and not just be posts to be exploited by demagogues, celebrities, and the elite.

    Compared to those, ours is so crude, and probably the stupidest. It is so broken that we have to change it. But then Aquino finds nothing wrong with it that he has ruled out amending the constitution, the only means for changing a system so useless in pushing our country forward and developing real democracy.

    E-mail: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
    Website: www.rigobertiglao.com and www.trigger. ph

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