Thursday, December 08, 2005

Elections and Political Parties: Revitalizing the Party List System

Weak 'political parties' would yield weak systems.
The sizeable political parties like the congress leader Lakas, the NPC, the Nationalista Party, among others, although never in shortage of funds nor political support, are experiencing serious deficits in party discipline, ideological foundations, and far-seeing programs. Doubtable is their capacity to sustain a consociational parliament, almost as doubtable as the appropriateness of recognizing them as political parties. The absence of the fundamental values does not merit them the privilege of being called a political party.
The political parties contesting for Party List seats in the parliament are the ones in possession of relatively laudable qualities a political party should have. In other words, they are relatively tolerable. Yet they are given minimal political mileage as they are in competition with political bigwig groups who are dismissive of any idea of power sharing. This is evident on how the Party List system is practiced and structured in the electoral system.
The Party List system is a paradox.
Theoretically and ideally, party list groups are those that represent marginalized sectors – the workers, women, sectoral groups, among others. Although it managed to obtain its share of critiques and scandals, the Party List system allows broader political participation, as it embraces groups with diverse social and ideological stance. This ultimately fortifies that essence of a democracy of limiting, if not eradicating, the barriers that fosters political exclusion in the government.
Twenty percent of parliament seats in the Lower House are reserved for Party List Representatives. Elected nationally, garnering two percent of the votes would entitle a group to a seat in the Lower House. A ceiling of three seats per group is set. This system is supposed to be patterned after the proportional representation model, yet remains extremely paradoxical because it is proportional representation… but not really. The rationale perhaps in the inclusion of the provision that disallows acquiring of more than three seats is a safeguard against a monopoly of a single party. But, at the end of the day, even such argument could be invalidated, as it, for lack of a better term, mocks the very essence democracy of popular determination of government positions. Thus and so, there should be reforms as to how we practice our Party List system.
Feared perhaps is the permeation in the parliament/government of left-leaning groups. A misconception borne from the systemic conditioning - the eternal propensity to shiver at the thought of the slightest participation of the leftist, or progressives as I prefer to call them. It is undeniable that several/some party list groups do have leftist/socialist inclinations, but this is not reason enough to subject them to something which is essentially unjust.
Hence, my proposals are:
1.) The increase of seat allocation in the parliament for Party List groups. Critical in the democratic setup is the diversity in manners of representation so as to provide avenues for participation and articulation for marginalized sectors of the society. As important as district/regional representation is in the Congress, the ideological and programmatic Party List group would enhance policy-making and sector representation, the two fundamental tasks of the legislature.
2.) The abolition of the ceiling rule that only a maximum of three seats can be occupied by a Party List group. Since its inclusion in the National Elections, only less than half of the fifty seats allocated for the Party List groups are occupied. The rule on the maximum seats deters Party List groups from maximizing the fifty seats allocated to them. Furthermore, such directive infringes on the right of the populace to choose their representatives, for they are shortchanged when a Party List group only gets three seats when they deserve more.
3.) The increase of subsidies and incentives for political parties contesting Party List seats. The government should regulate the party list system, in terms of election financing and other incentives. Since Party list groups represent marginalized sectors, some may encounter difficulties in fund acquisition, thus there is an unequal opportunity in election participation. This could be remedied by the provision of sunsidies and incentives.
However, there should a system to check whether the groups claiming to represent marginalized sectors truly represent marginalized sectors. As in any avenues in politics, the party List system may be used, or abused, by opportunist politicians whose constituents are non-existent and whose objectives are mere financial advancement and political ascent.

Fermin, Adriano. (2001). "Prospects and scenarios for the party list system in the Philippines". Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Manila: Ateneo School of Government
"Election Laws in the Philippines: Party List System Act". The ChanRobles Group
Choi, Jungug. (2001). "Philippine Democracies Old and New: Elections, Term Limits, and Party Systems". Asian Survey. USA: University of California Press.
Montinola, Gabriella. (1999). "Parties and Accountability in the Philippines". Journal of Democracy. USA: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Websites: COMELEC Website, Congress Website


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