[Blueboard] charter change-3

lyjose at ateneo.edu lyjose at ateneo.edu
Mon Feb 24 14:58:47 PHT 2003

Please post. Thank you.

Third essay in the Political Science Department’s series on constitutional 
change. Please send comments to polsci at admu.edu.ph and/or lyjose at ateneo.edu.


A look at alternative electoral systems  
By Maria Elissa J. Lao
	What one must keep in mind while playing around with the idea of an 
alternative electoral system for the Philippines is the potential power of 
elections.  The importance of this debate is not lost on a country like the 
Philippines, where elections are everyone’s business (as evidenced by the high 
voter turn out).  Elections are the most common (and for many, the only) avenue 
for citizen participation.  It makes our democracy accessible and tangible to 
the population who oftentimes feel isolated and detached from the political 
system that decides our collective fate.

	It is then in the best interest of legitimacy that the system that 
determines the winners and losers produce a reasonable facsimile of what its 
voters deem to be “representative of their interests” and, more fundamentally, 
the act of electing public officials be free of distortions.  When both 
electoral system and electoral practices are perceived by the public as 
functional and fair, support for the government increases – which betters our 
chances for the strong and stable government we demand.

	Although electoral practices are a major concern, for the purpose of 
brevity, this essay will simply focus on possible alternatives to the current 
electoral system. 

	 This is easier said than done.  Finding the perfect electoral fit is 
like trying to rid the Batasang Pambansa of years of bad feng shui.  So 
difficult is the exercise that many more “established” states have vacillated 
back and forth between electoral systems before settling on a previously 
discarded alternative.

	Currently, the Philippines is of a mixed or hybrid system: we have 
features of the two major types of electoral systems.  The first, majoritarian 
in which winners win by majority – whether relative (a plurality, simply put, 
the highest number of votes wins) or absolute (at least 50.01%). According to 
Giovanni Sartori (1994), “Majority or majoritarian systems do not seek a 
parliament that reflects the voting distributions; they seek a clear winner.  
Their intent is not only to elect a parliament but at the same time to elect 
(if only by implication) a government.” Proportional representation or PR, on 
the other hand, “purports to translate votes into seats in proportion.”

	Although many variants exist between these two types, one can consider 
the following as a simple charting of their salient features:


1. Winner takes all 
2. Voter’s choice is funneled and ultimately narrowed into one alternative
3. Proposes individual candidates, persons


1. Winning is shared and simply requires a sufficient share
2. Voters are not forced into concentrating their vote and their range of 
choice may be quite extensive
3. Generally proposes party lists

It seems that though both systems are useful, the Philippines would benefit 
more from purposively implementing just one type of electoral system.  For 
example, as it stands now, though a well meaning gesture, the party list system 
as enacted by the flawed party list law adds confusion to the already muddled 
issue of the nature and function of political parties and how our political 
parties actually function.  At best, our current party list is a distortion of 
the PR system.

	According to Andrew Heywood (1997), majoritarian systems are “usually 
defended on the grounds that they offer a clear choice of potential 
governments, invest winning parties with a policy mandate, and help promote 
strong and stable government” while PR systems  ”give government a broader 
electoral base, promote consensus and cooperation amongst a number of parties, 
and establish a healthy balance between the executive and assembly.” It is easy 
to see why both options are attractive for a number of cross-purposes.  
	Should we first address the problem of strong and stable government or 
the problem of size of electoral base and balance between the executive and the 
assembly? At this point in time, though, if our country were given a chance 
between building a strong government and a viable party system and a chance at 
broadening our electoral base and the possibility of a coalition government, it 
might be sounder to opt for the former and save the latter for a different time 
and place. 

	If, in our quest for a “strong state,” we do opt for a variant of the 
majoritarian system, we should consider one that insists on an absolute instead 
of a relative majority (or plurality), so as not to lose focus on the need for 
a strong, well established government.  As it stands now, Philippine elections 
demand a relative majority or plurality of votes, which results in the election 
of “minority” winners. This does not ensure a clear mandate to rule, something, 
which an absolute majority does.  There are several options to ensure an 
absolute majority (such as a run-off election between top contenders for the 
presidency and the “alternative vote system” which requires voters to rank 
their candidates in terms of preference).  

	All this change can be effected without even touching the 
Constitution.  As informed citizens, we should be open to the fact that 
progressive change does not come from taking the “high road” of altering our 
charter.  It can come just as effectively from a more thorough reworking of the 
statutes already in existence. Mas affordable pa!
	Many other thoughts go into this debate.  Although not necessarily a 
push for any type of government, it is a reminder that not only electoral 
choices but electoral systems decide the character of government.

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