rock the vote

September 24, 2015

i am desperately trying to make sense of Philippine politics.   I’m certainly realistic enough to know that a single blog post won’t bring me full enlightenment but, instead, is an attempt to begin to make some sense of it.

In an archipelago of 7,100 islands, name recall is quite understandable (not that it’s an excuse) given the reach of radio. Political dynasties were partly enabled by it: after all, you’re more likely to vote for someone with a familiar last name rather than one you don’t know. Hopefully, the pervasiveness of cell phones and social media can provide a “dent” towards this as more information about the candidates becomes accessible. Granted, as was noted in the American President, you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

Another reason for the persistence of these political families is the wealth that they hold. They can afford more media buys and we can easily mistake this with free speech – this is a little more obvious in a developing nation. While voters have learned to accept the cash and then just vote for whatever candidate they choose. I suspect (although I don’t have proof) some of them are now resorting to other forms of shenanigans. Being richer doesn’t necessarily make you fit to rule nor does it help you to determine what’s beneficial to the community – winning an economic lottery doesn’t make you “better” than anyone else. After all, as my former advisor taught me: “Local maxima, global minima.” We are all prone to self-interest and What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) thinking.

I can understand why some voters have taken an anti-intellectual stand. Attitude is just, if not more, important than aptitude. “Evil” geniuses exist after all. The majority of the population has been burned by these “bright boys” in the past so it would make perfect sense to elect someone with similar sensibilities. What they sometimes don’t realise is that some candidates merely pretend to come from the same background or have their backs – when in reality it’s their own wellbeing that’s their priority. I don’t think this a solution either – is holding out for Plato’s philosopher-king a pipe dream for the country.

That said, I think there is too much reliance on an individual messiah: perhaps a by-product of religion and Western colonialism. It is much easier to hope that someone else is responsible for making your or your family’s lives better. I can not blame the population from thinking that way – their own life experiences point to that reality. I believe it is the existing social structures that make it so – the Philippine’s has a high power distance culture according to Hofstede’s work. While solutions may not come easy, I think a better understanding of the situation is required for possible remedies. We should be able to tap into the wisdom of the crowds. Granted, statistically speaking, there is no way to increase the size of the upper echelon, it is improving the awareness of those in the “middle” that is more important and may have greater flow-on effects for the nation – it is unlikely that we can directly produce “great” individuals, it is merely providing the conditions for more of them to flourish. It is the dependence on the few to raise us from poverty that is not completely scalable, in my mind.

Electronic Voting Machines can still be hacked – sure just not by anyone. Ballot tampering is now harder and requires a special skill set so it is presumptuous to think it is always a true and accurate reflection of the voice of the people. Sure it is a step in the right direction but it is foolish to assume it is a silver bullet. Has anyone even looked into the value-for-money thing since it’s a developing economy after all? Or is someone simply the beneficiary of a lucrative government contract. There is nothing inherently wrong with turning a profit – it is when it is at the expense of others when questions arise. What about Filipinos overseas?

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