Sunday, January 27, 2008

Creating a Foolproof Electoral System?

It is now beyond cavil that our electoral system is dead, and that total reform has become a conditio sine qua non for the holding of the next presidential elections. Before we talk of anyone running for president in 2010, we should first of all overhaul the Commission on Elections and rewrite our election laws. Corruption has spread far beyond the organic Comelec personnel into the ranks of those deputized for election duties---teachers, treasurers, fiscals, police and military men. Naming a new Comelec chairman alone, whatever his virtues, will not change anything.

Free and transparent elections should promote a competition of the fittest, not of the most moneyed or the most popular incompetent. To bring down costs, opposing candidates should be required to campaign together, using common posters and speaking in the same public forums organized and hosted by the new Comelec or some politically neutral organizations. Campaign spending should be limited to what a candidate will earn legally from his elective position; no political contribution should exceed a candidate’s one-year salary if elected. No political ads should be allowed, all posters, streamers and other outdoor campaign materials should be in common, and confined to Comelec-controlled areas.

To promote transparency, all accredited political parties should be allowed to appoint election inspectors at state expense. The votes of a candidate that exceed the number of votes cast or the number of registered voters should be automatically nullified. The most reliable and transparent vote-counting and tabulating systems should be used. No electoral abuses should go unpunished. Anyone convicted of electoral fraud should be permanently barred from public office.

To limit the contest for national office to serious candidates only, senators who at midterm run for president, vice president or any other office should be deemed automatically resigned upon filing of their certificate of candidacy. This would allow the senatorial seats vacated by those running for other positions to be filled up in the same elections. To weed out the incompetent, all candidates, especially those for national office, should be required to take part in public debates organized by the Comelec or any politically neutral organization.

If reform is not possible, and we cannot stop the corruption, we could adopt a more practical alternative. Make honest men and women of the corruptors and those who sell their votes, and auction off every elective position to the highest bidder. The proceeds could then be used to support education, health care, housing, etc. Or the government could distribute the money directly to the poor. To make sure the winners do not recoup their investments through graft or plunder, they should be placed under permanent public surveillance, by satellite.

If neither reform nor public auction can be done, we may have to adopt the last resort. Implore divine intervention. We could adopt the method used by the apostles when 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

First, 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, as long as Ramadan. All the candidates will be required to avoid solid food, and subsist only on water. Maybe sweetened, but water nevertheless. Thereafter, all the entries are emptied into a huge lottery bin, in a public venue like Rizal Park, with all the media, showbiz entertainers, religious leaders, diplomatic corps and the public present.

Assume 10,000 entries. The lottery begins by picking a certain number at random, say, 1,000 entries; the rest are thereby eliminated. From this 1,000, a smaller number, say 100, will be picked; then ten, then five, then two, from which the winner will finally be chosen. The lottery bin then spins several times--three, five, seven, nine, 11, 13, any odd number to avoid a tie. At the end of it, the winning envelope is opened and the winner finally known.

In this election, no taipan or drug lord will have to bankroll any candidate. No one will have to buy votes or intimidate or coerce anyone. No one will have to fake or fudge any opinion survey or pay media commentators, interviewers, etc. The state will not have to spend on election personnel, forms or anything else. A handful of personnel could run the whole operation; we could abolish the Comelec altogether. A real boon to the taxpayers. We could even say (if we like) that the winner got his “mandate from heaven.”

One small objection, though, is that it takes away 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, and keep, their own leaders?

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