Thursday, January 12, 2006

Party List 3: Marginal Parties Should Aspire to Become Big

A friend commented to one of my postings about the party list system. He wrote,
Hi Nonoy,
I am no fan of sectoral representation myself, but let's not dismiss the party list system altogether.

I agree, there is no such thing as solid sectoral interests. Sectoral lobby groups have their rightful place in advocacy. But for progressive legislaton to be passed, we need Lower House Representatives who will be taken seriously by trapo politicians, because they are backed by a
constituency that is serious about reform. Sectoral reps with narrow agendas will always be condemmed to the "margins" of the current political system that we have. It is no surprise that the party list reps who have gained some prominence to date are Etta Rosales and Satur Ocampo, or even JV Bautista -- all of whom represent multi-sectoral formations.

The party-list system of representation that we have is a hybrid, a mix of sectoral and proportional representation. It should be directed towards strengthening the proportional aspect. We should not encourage interpretation that stress that the party list is a voice of
the "marginalized". Instead it should be seen as an opportunity for non- traditional formations to enter mainstream politics and build a broad reform constituency to counter conservative elements.

In the long run, progressive agendas are not served well by this insistence on being marginalized. It's self-defeating. Party lists are in the business of competing (and winning) in elections. Textbook definitions of political parties state that parties are there to aggregate and articulate interests. This is a number game.

I thanked him for his comments. Actually I want to see Akbayan, Sanlakas, Bayan Muna, other current party-list groups evolve into a "real" political party -- challenging the Lakas, LDP, NPC, other traditional parties in some congressional districts, fielding local candidates
in some municipalities, cities and provinces.

By doing so, these groups can go beyond the 3 seats maximum at the House if they get lucky, and field Senatorial candidates someday -- on the assumption that the Upper House will not be abolished someday.

But I maintain my position: the party-list system should be abolished (together with the Senate) in the next round of constitutional change. parties should aspire to be big; if they cant do it on their own, they should learn the art of coalition with other small parties.

I also think that in future constitutional change, initiatives should consider going back to the two-party system. It's simpler because most policy questions are answerable by Yes or No. For instance, on the questions of government size and individual liberty:

a) Should govt. cut taxes, cut its services (welfare + bureaucracy), and let the citizens decide where to allocate their hard-earned income?
b) Or should government get more and higher taxes from the citizens, expand services (welfare + bureaucracy), so that govt. will decide where to allocate taxpayers' money?

c) Should government liberalize trade, let the tens of millions of Filipino consumers decide where to buy their needs, the Filipino producers and exporters where to sell their products?
d) Or should govt. restrict trade, protect the producers, but deprive the consumers of more options and liberty where to buy their needs?

These and similar policy questions are generally answerable by Yes or No. Hence, only two major political and economic philosophies will represent the citizens' aspirations. A multiple party system often contributes to muddled understanding of issues.

See also:
Party List 1: Opportunism, 2001 Elections, November 28, 2005
Party List 2: Opportunism, 2004 Elections, December 12, 2005