A Popularity Game

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I sometimes begin to doubt if I have a reasonably good understanding of the English language. Related to that, of course, I also wonder if I understand the meanings of most common English words and terms.

In this season of intensifying partisanship, I am often jolted by commentaries being made on articles that find their way to social media, including my weekly articles. There are many remarks that just amaze me for their ignorance or stupidity. I am more familiar with the vicious and malicious as human weaknesses like these are often the favorite genre of media reporting. But the level of ignorance or stupidity is unsettling at times. After all, why would people expose these willingly and abundantly for all else to see?

It may be, though, that I am simply assuming most Filipinos who get to express themselves in social media know enough about democracy as a system of government.  I think that democracy is a term so often used in countries where it is the current form of government, including the Philippines. It is even commonly used in other countries that we believe to be undemocratic but would like to present themselves as such.

Let me cite the most common definitions of democracy just to align us all when we think about it here. Democracy, or democratic government, according to Wikipedia, is a system of government where all the people in a state or territory are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect its representatives to a parliament or similar assembly (Congress, as in the case of the Philippines and the United States of America).

Democracy is further defined as a) “government by the people; especially, rule of the majority,” and b) “a government in which supreme power is invested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation involving periodically held free elections.”

As in the past, twice in the last 70 years since World War II, we have exercised supreme democratic power directly through People Power revolutions. Other than that, we have exercised democratic power indirectly through a system of representation involving periodically held free elections. My mistake, then, for assuming that this definition of democracy was well understood and accepted by Filipinos, especially those who  believe they are better educated and not among the ranks of the impoverished.

A system of representation is what our elections are all about, the coming presidential elections in 2016 included. The candidates who vie for positions, all of them who are not nuisance-based or with a personal advocacy worth more to them than electoral victory, are after being popularly elected by the majority of voters. In other words, it is a popularity game.

There is no reason, therefore, for those who believe in democracy and democratic elections, to put down popularity as the main reason for voting a candidate. How can one want to win via a popular vote yet put down the value of popularity? Ignorance or stupidity triggered by a partisanship that blinds, or worse, creating hypocrites of its fanatics?

People vote because of their own reasons, because of their own set of values, because of their priority needs. In the end, they vote because of their net preferences. And when certain votes reach the majority, or the needed plurality, they translate to popular votes.

The arrogant, the know-it-all or know-better-than-others, often say they are democratic. They want the freedom to say and do as they see fit but then complain when others do the same thing. By their public actuation, they are, in fact, saying that they are superior to others, that this gives them greater rights to tell others how to think and behave, and especially how to vote. By calling others who think otherwise, particularly the masa or very poor, as bobo, they demean the value of others’ rights to their choices.

Well, for those who do not have enough sense to understand the game, let me say it again – it is a popularity game. Now, why would Filipinos vote for an unpopular choice? It is sheer idiocy to ask citizens in a democracy to go against their choice unless they clearly understand it is more beneficial for them.

Perhaps, the elite or the minority do not realize that the majority who are poor would like to be like them, to know what they know, and most especially to own what they own. That is precisely why the same majority poor what to be as beautiful as their favorite stars, or to be grateful to those who give them what they need now instead of waiting for a bright future they do not know how to imagine. The majority poor would like to follow the minority rich, but they cannot afford to do so.

Most Filipinos believe that the primary responsibility and accountability of achieving progress for everyone belongs to government. But government in a democracy is NOT as rich and powerful as the minority who control the economy. The elite must share as much, if not more, of the same responsibility and accountability as government. If the rich and powerful are unwilling to dramatically close the gap between them and the rest of the people, they might as well dismantle the hypocrisy of a representative democracy and openly adopt a truthful oligarchy.

Meanwhile, to the vocal and often vociferous critics of others’ opinions and choices, especially the standards and preferences of the majority of voters (who just happen to be poor or poorer than poor), they have to find the magical formula how to sell their value system even if they do not share their advantages. Otherwise, they simply have to accept that the voters will choose whomever they like for whatever reason they have. Elections are a popularity game, after all.


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