Effective democracies thrive because of strong, established and working political parties. This is particularly showcased by resilient and well-entrenched republics like the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Malaysia, and many others where political parties play a critical role in obtaining the collective demands of the citizenry, transforming the same into firm action by the state’s decision-makers, educating the populace on relevant issues and most important, using its ideological foundation to institute meaningful change in the country.
The 2016 upcoming election compels us to reevaluate the role of our current political parties in the strengthening of our democracy, which has remained almost stagnant throughout various stages in our political history.
The existing political parties remain to be personality and patronage based, popularity driven, and devoid of a distinct ideology and action plan to address the needs of the constituencies that they claim to represent and fight for. This malaise is frequently attributed to the early American political structures imported in bulk and style by our politicians then who hailed from the rich and landed classes in Philippine society.
The fundamental orientation of our earlier political leaders at that time was to defend the status quo, articulate the interests of the elite with a hope of sharing some of the advantages of the supposed democracy to the toiling and marginalized masses in the process. Participation through the ballot was, in itself, a concession given to the people. This made them believe that at least and at last, they have been given a chance to choose their leaders, albeit from a limited class of individuals whose concerns radically differ from theirs.
Sadly, our political parties are now loose coalitions that are weak and driven by temporary partnerships whose primary goal is electoral victory. Even the nontraditionals, like the party-list groups, have been slowly devoured by the very same conventional parties. Some have even openly supported candidates who are diametrically opposed to their advocacies. So nevermind the platform, the promises made and the primordial aim of transforming and educating the polity on the value of good governance. Winning and sharing the spoils of the electoral battle is the end game.
What exactly ails our political parties? Aside from the utter lack of ideological and issue-oriented foundations, they are plagued by the essential gap between solid national and local level supporters; frequent political horse-trading and turncoatism; inadequate organizational management that covers membership concerns; absence of mechanisms like discipline and dismissal or accountability for party assets and funds.
Perhaps solutions can be found in seriously searching for the possibility of passing the proposed political party reform bill, which aims to change current mind-sets about electoral campaign spending such as financing by providing a state subsidy fund for the parties but with very strong penalties on misuse. This bill would also institutionalize party discipline by penalizing political switching. The much-avowed merits of the party-list system should also be revisited as it has failed to become a genuine alternative for our people
We must first unravel the myth covering our political parties in order to finally transform our political system into an effective tool for national progress. As the ancient philosophers and historians would claim: Who says politics cannot be our liberation?