Thursday, January 10, 2008

Creating A Foolproof Electoral System

“The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”

Consistent with these words (Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution), the people elect their public officials in periodic elections. Qualified candidates run in these elections, and qualified voters vote for them. The law provides that the process be clean, honest, peaceful and orderly.

But theory is one thing, practice another. Candidates cheat, bribe, steal, and sometimes kill. They buy votes, and voters sell. Election personnel, teachers, treasurers, fiscals, military and police officers sell their services to the highest bidder and cheat for them; opinion surveys and media practitioners are used to manipulate public opinion. Candidates spend far beyond what they would legally earn from their elective positions.

What happens at national level happens at the lowest level. Some local candidates were said to have paid up to P2,000 per vote in the last barangay elections. The result is a truly sickening farce in which dishonest candidates are “elected” by dishonest voters in a dishonest process that allows them to commit far greater dishonesty in government.

The system must change. And now is the time to change it. I see at least three possibilities:

1) Reform the system. Rewrite all election laws and overhaul the Commission on Elections. Require opposing candidates to campaign together, speaking in the same forum organized and hosted by the Comelec or some politically neutral organizations. Ban political ads. Confine posters, streamers and other outdoor propaganda materials to Comelec-controlled areas. Get tough on all electoral abuses, whether committed by candidates, voters, government personnel, or anybody else. Limit campaign spending to what a candidate will earn legally from his job, if elected. Provide election inspectors to every accredited party at state expense. Nullify the votes of any candidate that exceed the number of votes cast or the number of registered voters, and prosecute the candidate for fraud. Use the most modern vote-counting and tabulating systems.

2) Public auction. If reform is not possible, opt for a public auction. Sell every elective position to the highest bidder. Use the proceeds to support education and health care. Otherwise distribute the money among the poor. Then put all public officials under a permanent electronic surveillance.

3) Public lottery. If neither the first nor the second is doable, pray for divine intervention. Transform the man-made halalan (election) into a “Bathalalan”, where the people will have to ask Bathala (the Almighty) to intervene, just as the apostles asked the Lord to intervene in choosing Judas’ successor.

And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, ‘Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles. –Acts 1: 23-26

The first step is to spell out at great length the qualifications and disqualifications of candidates. Those who have all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications shall be eligible to run. After the last candidate is listed, all entries are sealed in specially coded envelopes and deposited inside a maximum security vault.

The nation then goes into a period of prolonged fasting and prayer, probably longer than Ramadan. Thereafter, the authorities in charge transfer all the sealed envelopes into a gigantic lottery bin, and conduct the lottery in an appropriate public place like Rizal Park, with all the media, showbiz entertainers, and the public present.

Suppose there are 10,000 sealed entries. The lottery begins by picking a given number of entries at random, say, 1,000, thereby eliminating all the others. From this number, you pick, say, 100 in similar fashion. From the 100 you pick 10; from the 10 you pick five; and from the five you pick the final two. To determine the winner, you spin the machine not once but several times---three, five, seven, 11, 13, any odd number to avoid a tie. Only then will you open the lucky envelope and know the winner.

In this election, the taipans and drug lords don’t have to bankroll any candidate. No one buys votes, no one coerces or intimidates anybody, no one manipulates public opinion through bogus opinion surveys, and paid media commentators. The government spends nothing on election personnel or forms. You could abolish the Comelec altogether; just a handful of personnel could run the whole thing. A real boon to the taxpayers. You could even say that whoever wins got his “mandate from heaven.”

One small objection, though, is that it removes the element of free choice from the people. The people will be deprived of their sovereign right to choose freely and intelligently their own leaders. The answer is simple: When was the last time the people exercised their sovereign right to choose freely and intelligently their own leaders?

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