08 May 2007

Urbano's Kansas City Shuffle of a design

URBANO de la Cruz's series on designs of democracy is finally complete, and my initial reaction to his proposed overhaul of our electoral system, that would effectively turn it upside down, is: it's a Kansas City Shuffle!

Probably because at the middle of that eight-part series, our discussion focused on the national leadership problems and what can be done about them; little did I expect that his proposed solution will redo the system from the ground up, quite literally.

On one hand, it will create problems for a good number of our incumbent politicians, including some of our very own in Naga. For instance, probably because of the reverse application of the Peter Principle, we have two councilors who previously failed in their respective bids for the barangay council yet made it to the Sangguniang Panlungsod, where they have done or are now doing a good job.

This predicament, I think, is captured by this common election observation: "Dai ngani yan magana sa barangay niya!" (He will not even win in his barangay!) How many, indeed, of our elected local officials can win in a barangay election, or even at their homeowner's association? Elections like that can really be pretty ugly and personal, as our recent experience in Grandview shows.

But on the whole, I agree with Urbano's arguments, especially in flattening the power dynamics and leveling the playing field, built around the concept of vibrant local democracies at the community level. The initial downsides I see -- like moneyed candidates exercising market power to dominate or influence results beyond their communities -- are self-canceling; others who are equally situated can pretty much do the same.

Further, non-traditional campaigns anchored on a compelling message and a solid reputation have a better chance of blunting the money advantage in a setting where everyone pretty much knows everybody -- Urbano's second degree of separation. My only concern is how this plays out as one moves up the ladder: my gut feel is, the higher one goes up, the greater danger there is for a message-based campaign to be gobbled up by selfish interests, especially if seen in the light of the public choice theory.

Finally, as an extension of that theory, this definitely will not sit well with the ruling political class, both in the administration and the opposition, because it is not in their best interest to let go of a system that has, for a century now, given them the upperhand. How to overcome their expected resistance should be a good topic in Urbano's post.