The candidates have now all filed their CoCs (Certificate of Candidacy) with the Comelec. The election season has unofficially begun, even though the period when candidates could properly campaign has yet to start. One thing that stands out of the candidates list is that it is full of old NAMES – often these aren’t the politicians we knew, but their children or spouses. They run because people would still vote for them out of name recall. In the Senatorial race, a lot of the candidates with known names are running: Cayetano, Enrile, Angara, Aquino, Magsaysay, Binay, Villar, Estrada (Ejercito).. The local and congressional candidates also have known names, from established political dynasties. Voters will often face the choice of which political dynasty they will support this time.
What are honest people, who sincerely want the country to develop, to do in the face of all this? A lot, actually.
What Voters Can Do
To be a good voter, you should do a lot more than show up at the polling station come election day. Casting your ballot should be the end of a process in which we we choose our officials.
Study the candidates: their performance in office, or their CVs if they haven’t served yet. See if their talents match the position they seek. (for example, one could say that a good debater – like Miriam Santiago – may not really fit in an executive position, like president, but would be great as a Senator). Researching a candidate’s performance and background is a lot easier to do today, compared to previous elections Many candidates are easy to Google, if not the candidates themselves, news articles about them.
It is important to see the qualifications of the person himself/herself, and not that of their family. A candidate from a political dynasty may be good; conversely, a ‘new’ politician could be incompetent or corrupt.
Talk to people about your choices. It might surprise you how many people are willing to listen to your views (that’s why its important to study the candidates well yourself). In turn, people will also have opinions and information which may cause you to change your mind. The important thing is that people discuss – this is the essence of the democratic process. The more people discuss the merits of various candidates, the more they can make good, thought-out, voting decisions.
Having well thought-out voting preferences has a ‘multiplier effect’. Many people, who are not well-informed about politics, often seek out those who they think could give them good advice on whom to vote for. They would ask their employers, colleagues, friends, even neighbours for advice.
Make demands from candidates. Ask them to make concrete promises e.g. “Expand the capacity of the city’s hospital” “Stop a proposed open-pit mining project” or “Support the passage of the Freedom of Information bill”. The thing is, they will be pushed to implement their promise, or lose your (and many other people’s ) support in the next election.
Don’t ask for something vague, like:”Be tougher on crime” or “Fight corruption.” This is easy to promise, and it would be difficult to measure whether they fulfilled the promise or not.
With social media nowadays, it is a lot easier for groups of citizens to make demands of candidates.
Accept the bribe, but vote your conscience. If someone gives you money to vote for a candidate, accept it; but then go ahead and vote for the one you chose in the first place. If the candidate you chose was the source of the money, you may want to reconsider whether you still will vote for him.
Join citizen initiatives. There are a lot of initiatives, online and offline, which you can join, which work for cleaner and better elections. Epalwatch for example goes against premature campaigning and the use of public funds for campaigning. Namfrel observes the conduct of the elections themselves. There are many groups doing voter information drives.
And finally on election day…
Vote for candidates that are good. Write down in advance the candidates you are voting for. Don’t make decisions in the polling place itself – because such decisions are going to be made more out of name-recognition than sound judgement.
If none of the choices for a position is good, don’t vote for anyone – just leave that space blank in the ballot. In choosing Senators, you are not obliged to choose 12 – just vote for those you deem to be good, even if that means you only vote for four or five.
You are not required to choose the ‘lesser evil’. People who vote for a candidate they dislike less very often regret their vote later. It’s much better to just leave the position blank on the ballot.
Of course, by voting wisely, one doesn’t expect to change the political system overnight, or after one election. But as more and more people fully exercise their democratic responsibilities and vote wisely, things will gradually change for the better. Full democratic participation is a necessary ingredient to political transformation; change will happen as people more fully exercise their democratic duty to vote wisely.