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Archive for the ‘charter change’ Category

Implementing a Proportional Representation System

Posted by butalidnl on 27 November 2011

In a previous blog (See ‘Proportionally Represented Parliament’), I dealt with the question of why a proportional representation system is better than the present Philippine system. The advantages include: every vote counts, parties represent programs, simpler and cheaper campaign and elections, no pork barrel. In effect, this means a lot less corruption and more citizen participation.

Now, let us get into more specific things about how a proportional representation system can be set up in the Philippines, and what problems to look out for.

Voting Threshold
One real possible problem would be that proportional representation may end up with so many parties in parliament. If parliament were to have 200 members, they could theoretically represent 200 different parties. Having a lot of parties (even if not really 200) would make forming a governing coalition difficult, and keeping it together would be quite tedious. This is the problem, for example, in India, where they have many parties splintered on regional and caste lines.

In order to avoid that problem, various countries have an Election Threshold – which is a minimum percentage of the vote needed before a party can be represented. In effect, this puts a limit on how small a party can be but still be in parliament.

If the election threshold is set at 5% in a 200-member parliament, the minimum size of a party parliamentary group would be 10 MPs. So, a 5% threshold will result, at most to 20 parties in parliament (i.e. 10 each). In practice, however, the number of parties for a 5% threshold will probably be 5 to 7, with perhaps 3 big ones. The German parliament has a 5% threshold, and it has 5 parties represented.
For the Philippines, I think a 5% threshold is too high. A threshold of 2% will suffice – it would eliminate marginal parties, but allow a wide enough range to be represented.

Personality-Based Parties
While all parties will be required to have a program and a list of candidates to participate in the elections; some parties will not really take their programs seriously. In effect, there would still be party formations built around personalities. This is inevitable, but it is also going to be short-lived. If parties are based on party-lists, there are inevitably going to be politicos who don’t agree with their position on the list, and they may leave. But if they leave and form a new party, the question of who gets top billing recurs. Eventually, these small parties will fail to achieve the election threshold and die out as parties.

One problem for trapos is that, on the average, they will have to get support of twice as many votes to get a proportional representation seat than they did previously for a district seat. To get a district seat, they just had to get a majority (50%+1 of votes); but for a proportional representation seat, they would need to get approximately 100% of all votes of a district (or the equivalent from all over the country). With a threshold of 2%, parties would have to get at least 8 times as many votes as before to even get represented in parliament.
This will be an enormous burden on the capacity of the campaign machinery of trapos.

‘Trapo’ parties will be many during the early days of a proportional representation parliament. But these will splinter and die out with time. By the 3rd or 4th round of elections, the overwhelming majority of parties will be national and program-based.

Absenteeism and Useless Speeches
If an MP is consistently absent, the party has the right to kick that MP out and replace him/her with the next person on the list. Being absent is especially frowned upon because parties vote as blocks, and when one is absent the party in effect loses one vote.

The waste of time due to all kinds of speeches is put at a minimum. During plenary discussions, parties designate issue-spokesperson to present the party stand on an issue or proposed bill. Thus, there will be only one speaker per issue per party. There are no ‘privilege speeches’ by parliamentarians.

Posted in charter change, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Run-off election for President

Posted by butalidnl on 5 August 2009

Last May, Representative Raul Gonzalez filed HB 6183 entitled “Run-off election for President”. This bill is intended to end the tendency for the country to elect minority presidents.

In this set-up, there would be a second round of elections for president, unless a candidate gets more than 50% of the vote. In the second round, the two candidates with the most votes would be the ones left to choose from.

I agree with Gonzalez. The Philippines needs to select its presidents on the basis of a real majority vote, and no longer the plurality (which could mean quite a low percentage of the vote, if there are many candidates).

In addition to ensuring that the elected president was selected by an actual majority of voters, the run-off rule for presidential elections would also help to solve the conflict between “conscience” and “tactical” voting.  When there are more than two candidates, people often have to decide whether to vote for the candidate they really like, or the candidate that they think will win. Of course, if the candidate you like is the one you think is more likely to win, you don’t have a problem. But, what if this is not the case?  Then you may have to choose the candidate which you least dislike among the ones which have a good chance of winning (this is “tactical voting”).

With the run-off election, people will be free to choose among a wide field of candidates, truly on the basis of their preference, during the first round of voting. In the run-off vote, with only two candidates left, they would then choose the one that they prefer from the ones left. Thus, it would be “conscience” vote on the first round, and “tactical” vote on the second round. Quite convenient.

It is also an arrangement that will be good for the country. The winning president will have a real mandate from the people, and would be stronger in dealing with the rest of the government, especially Congress. And with a stronger mandate, there would be less need for shady alliances and the corruption that naturally brings.
In addition, there would also be more candidates who would run for president, representing a wider spectrum of political parties and programs.

After a while, if people get used to the idea of a run-off election for president; I believe it would be a good idea for this to be done for more elective positions, particularly those for executive positions.

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Electoral Reform No.1: A Two-Round Election System

Posted by butalidnl on 14 March 2008

The electoral system in the Philippines needs to be reformed. The question is: where should we start? I suggest that we should start with reforms that are both relatively easy to do, and which could make a significant impact.

I suggest that the first thing that should be changed in the election rules is that which governs contests where there are more than two candidates. The present rule is that the candidate who wins the most votes wins (which is the “plurality” rule). And thus, if there are 3 candidates to a post, the winner could get as low as 34% of the vote and still win. If there are 4, the minimum votes needed would be 26%; for 5 candidates it would be 21%. Of course, these are extreme cases, but the point is that candidates would win even if she/he got less than 50% of the vote. This is not really democratic, since democracy means that the majority rules.

The amendment that I propose is to have a second round of elections whenever none of the candidates gets more than 50% of the votes cast (in the first round). The top two candidates in the first round would then fight it out in the second round of elections. This way, anyone who gets elected is sure to have more than 50% of the votes.
This is not a radical idea. A lot of countries have this rule.

This amendment will be both practical and effective. It is practical because:

It is easy to implement. It does not call for a radical change in how we hold elections – only that we may have to do things for a second round, sometimes. It can be implemented immediately in the elections following the passing of the new law.

It does not immediately threaten politicians or any political group. Traditional politicians could find ways to thrive under such an election rule. It may cost a bit more for them due to a longer campaign period, but that is not such a big thing. Since it doesn’t threaten them, existing politicians would not oppose it, and even support it.

It is a reform that is easy to pass in Congress. This reform is a simple change in a small part of the Constitution.  It can be passed simply by a 2/3 vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

It will be effective because:

A wider range of political parties would field candidates. Today, there are many more parties than those which field candidates for elections. The smaller parties often do not field candidates for higher positions because of the small chance of winning, especially due to prohibitive campaign expenses. With the rule of a two-round elections, smaller parties would field candidates, even for the top positions. Reasons for them to do this would include:
– it would give their program and candidates wider exposure;
– it would show other political parties how big their mass support is;
– they could endorse candidates in the second round in exchange for concessions.

People could vote for the parties and candidates of their choice without worrying about “strategy”. In the present system of elections, supporters of minor candidates are discouraged from voting for them, by the idea that this would be a wasted vote. Worse, that their vote would indirectly help a candidate they don’t like, by depriving their second choice candidate of their vote. This was shown in the last presidential elections, when people were discouraged from voting for Roco, because this would lessen the support for GMA and thus indirectly help FPJ win the election.
With the two-round election set-up, people will simply vote for the candidate they want, at least in the first round. In the second round, they would then vote for the candidate they prefer (of the two candidates left, that is).

It promotes the political party system. Support by the smaller parties to the bigger ones in the second round will be channeled mainly through parties and less through individual candidates. In countries with the two-round election system e.g. France, we see that parties make arrangements before the elections, to support each other in the second round.

The net effect of all this is that the hold on political power by the political elite would be weakened, and that inter-party transactions would be public (and thus transparent). It would give people a better bond with the political process, and encourage more political participation during and after elections.

The two-round election reform will promote democracy in more than just a formal sense.

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Charter Change Debate?

Posted by butalidnl on 22 October 2006

The more I try to understand the so-called Philippine charter change debate, the more I realize that it is not a debate at all. The two sides are not talking about the same things, so there is no way of really weighing one side against the other. According to the pro charter change side, the shift to the unicameral-parliamentary system would streamline government, spur development, and make the country overcome corruption. The opponents of charter change point out to the so-called transitory provisions which provide for a concentration of power in the present president, the automatic extension of the terms of elected officials till 2010 (when many terms would have expired in 2007), and the concentration of power on the present legislators from the Senate and the House of Representatives.

On what, at first glance, is a side issue, there seems to at least be two sides. This is the issue of the national patrimony provisions. The charter change proposals of the House of Representatives and that of the Consultative Commission (ConCom) clearly want to open up ownership of land, natural resources, public utilities and mass media to foreigners, because according to them, this will result in national development etc. And of course, the opponents of charter change are saying that this will complete the sell-off of our national patrimony to foreigners, and that these steps will not result in economic gains for the country.

This clash on the issue of national patrimony is, in a sense, overblown. After all, hasn’t the present government already found ways to circumvent constitutional restrictions in order to get foreigners to operate and lease utilities and mining concessions? The thing that is now limiting the entry of foreign mining companies in the Philippines is the opposition from the Catholic church hierarchy, and not the Constitution. And I very much doubt whether opening up what little is still closed to foreign investment would spur economic development.

Thus, we are now saddled with a charter change non-debate.

And then, there is the more interesting (from the spectator’s point of view, that is) struggle regarding the technicalities of how to change the constitution. The House of Representatives is trying to push the point of a 2/3 vote as meaning 2/3 of the total members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, even if these legislators are all from the House of Representatives. This is a creative interpretation, and will be unique in the world – anywhere where the legislature has two chambers, they are required to get the required majority votes separately, unless the law specifically says that they should sit jointly for certain decisions. The House is trying to do everything to push their creative interpretation of the 2/3 vote requirement; but this will clearly get nowhere.

And the so-called peoples initiative is also getting stranded in a lot of legalese. It seems like it is anything but a peoples initiative, with all the government bodies tinkering with the process. It will indeed be a surprise if the Supreme Court accepts the Sigaw ng Bayan etc initiative as valid.

The charter change issue is clearly getting nowhere. But what can we conclude from all this?
First of all, it really seems like the whole charter change issue or debate is one giant smokescreen (or red herring, if one prefers that analogy). With both the content and the procedure going nowhere, why on earth is the government still pushing it? As long as all eyes are on the charter change issue, other issues including that of the Garci-tapes scandal become less prominent in the public eye. Also, legislators are less prone to be anti-charter change or anti-GMA because they have everything to gain if charter change “transitory provisions” are implemented.

The second conclusion that one could draw from the current charter change issue is that there seems to be a consensus that there is something wrong with the Philippine political system, and that it needs some radical changes. While many people don’t agree with the currently proposed set of amendments to the Constitution; a lot of these people are in favor of some changes, at least if these would help get rid of the corrupt and inept politicians currently running the country.
It is a pity that this underlying base of support for fundamental political change is being used by both sides in order to push their various short-term aims. What we need now is a call for genuine discussions on how best to design a political system that fits the Philippines today.
What we need now is a real debate on charter change.

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Disperse the chief executive’s power to appoint officials

Posted by butalidnl on 19 October 2006

One thing that I like about parliamentary systems is the fact that the prime minister is limited in his/her power to appoint people to all kinds of government positions. The prime minister’s cabinet is formed as part of the coalition negotiations – i.e. parties agree to join the governing coalition on the basis of programmatic points and seats in the cabinet. After the negotiations are done and the cabinet is formed, it is then put forward for approval by the parliament. The various ministers are then answerable to parliament directly, which could withdraw its support from any one of them at any time. The cabinet ministers may even at times outlast the prime minister.

The president’s power of appointment is quite marked in the present Philippine political system. The pro-charter change campaign fails to point this out as one of the disadvantages of the presidential system.

According to the present Constitution, in Article 7, Sections 13 and 16, the president appoints the following officials:
– Secretaries and Undersecretaries of Departments
– chairmen or heads of bureaus or offices
– members of Constitutional Commissions, and the Office of the Ombudsman
– ambassadors and consuls
– officers of the armed forces, from the rank of colonel or naval captain
– heads of government owned or controlled corporations and their subsidiaries
and all other officers of government whose appointments ae not otherwise provided by law, and those whom he may be authorized by law to appoint

The above list is indeed a mouthful, and it gives the president enormous powers, especially if he/she manages to stay long enough to appoint “friendly” people to these various positions. This power to appoint so many officials is a big reservoir of power of the president, as well as a source of corruption. It is also a task which is too much for one person to do well.

In the current move to revise/amend the constitution, there is not much being said about limiting the executive’s appointive powers. However, I believe that it would be good to clearly limit the powers of the executive, be it a president or a prime minister.

The constitution could be amended in such a way as to limit the president’s appointive right/duty to just the members of the Cabinet. Other bodies or persons should be the ones to appoint the other officials in the above list. For instance, the Armed Forces’ heads of services could appoint officers below them. The foreign service officials should be appointed from within the Department of Foreign Affairs. Constitutional Commissions members could be appointed by a special body formed for this purpose. Heads of bureaus under Departments should be appointed either by the department secretary or a body formed within the department for this purpose.

Under the current procedure, after the president makes an appointment, this needs to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments, which is composed of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. This is generally a good idea – which follows the logic of balancing the power of the president. However, since the president is able to sway a lot of lawmakers to join her/his party or ruling coalition, the Commission on Appointments is, to a large extent, a rubber-stamp body. We need to set up a body which includes lawmakers, but also having more people with wide experience (and hopefully, who are relatively immune to political pressure) to ensure that appointees have been chosen correctly. Perhaps people like former justices of the Supreme Court, former heads of Constitutional Commissions, and former Philippine presidents could sit together with lawmakers in this “strengthened” Commission on Appointments.

I believe that the dispersal of the power to appoint is a good principle of governance, and that it will be a good idea to implement this whether the country chooses to maintain its presidential system, or to change it to a parliamentary one.

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