By Ryan, BA Political Science student, University of the Philippines Diliman
The Philippines is the oldest democracy in Asia. Yet, it is hardly the most developed and most mature. Many factors contribute to the weakness of our democracy that once deposed a dictator but recently elected a strongman for his authoritarian platform.
Several factors influence our voting behavior such as our demographics, income, level of education, and even the geographic features of the place where we live. But one of the most important factors is economics.
People with low income tend to vote according to short-term incentives or whatever will help them make it through the month, week, or even the day. This means people will vote for whoever offers them the highest price for their vote and those who can be depended upon to offer money consistently.
What has been observed in various research on political behavior is that democratic institutions as well as political behavior improve with economic development. As long as we continue to benefit from globalization, the quality of life continues to improve, and the economic growth is not concentrated on a few – we should see an improvement in the state of our democracy. If we continue to experience development, then having a mature political system that works for everyone will be realized.
The most ideal model for good governance I think would be Switzerland, the closest to what can be called a direct democracy as its citizens have the power to legislate laws themselves through initiative and referendum. Its government structure is also highly devolved which makes its citizens some of the most empowered in the world.
Our political stability heavily depends on the political actors we have. Good economic conditions are supposed to be a strong indicator of stability. However, we are living in interesting times. Our president loves China, the strongest challenger of our most trusted ally, the United States. Our military has always been amicable with their American peers. Duterte’s straining of this relationship with the United States plus his coddling of the Chinese have openly threatened our military and sovereignty since the tensions over the South China Sea disputes were heightened. Should the military find that our president’s actions are harming our sovereignty, coup attempts would be a possibility.
Voting is the soul of our democracy. But as the saying goes, democracy ensures that we elect only the leaders we deserve. If we continue to put our personal interests before everything else, we might be the very ones who set this curse upon our nation.
Even if socio-economic factors play a key role in determining the quality of our democracy, that does not mean that we do not have agency over our fates. There are good, capable individuals out there whom we could elect into office. Applying sound decision-making when casting votes is a crucial, initial step toward realizing a government that is truly of, for, and by the people. But if push comes to shove, we can just overthrow the government. We already did it once, why not do it again.