It’s like love and marriage, only malignant.
Poverty and elections are inextricably linked to each other in a perverse sort of equilibrium. Poverty drives people to sell their votes, thereby ensuring that those who buy votes actually have a much greater chance of winning elections. And because those who buy votes are intrinsically corrupt, you can expect that their term as elected officials will probably just worsen the plight of the voters, thereby increasing the number of voters willing to commoditize their right of suffrage, increasing also the number of corrupt politicians in power.
I get dizzy just thinking about it.
One of the most difficult challenges facing the COMELEC is how to break this cycle of commoditization (that’s how I call it, so my apologies to whoever has a better term for the problem).
It is very tempting to say that the COMELEC should go after root causes and that the ultimate solution to vote buying is to eradicate poverty. But that would be stupid. Whole governments have dedicated themselves to the eradication of poverty, but still the problems persist. It would be ridiculous to imagine that the COMELEC can do any better in terms of making people not poor.
This, of course, does not mean that government should stop trying to address the problem of poverty. It’s just that, while government is butting its head against that brick wall, the COMELEC needs to be more creative in addressing vote-buying as a specific consequence of poverty.
- For instance, we should push for stiffer penalties for candidates – winning or losing – who fail to file expenditure reports.That’s a no-brainer I suppose.
- We could also probably ask the Commission on Audit to embed a team of government auditors in each campaign to monitor expenditures – not for the purpose of allowing or disallowing anything but simply to ensure that all expenditures are properly reported.
- And government books, in particular, should be closely audited – ideally by private auditors – during the campaign season to ensure that public funds are not misused.
Apart from these and other innovations, we should perhaps also be suggesting ways to ensure that vote-buying is counter-acted by private citizens. Although still mostly in the realm of the possible – albeit probably not even doable by the COMELEC – these might help:
A performance tracking system – a system by which the performance of elected officials is monitored in such terms of laws passed (if a legislator), innovations and improvements introduced, or income generated for his jurisdiction. Maybe a law should be passed making periodic audited reports to constituencies mandatory. That way, elected officials have to actually show that they’re walking the walk.
Anti-Choice Lists – A performance tracking system sounds good. However, this will only really work if people cared enough about good politicians to actively campaign against bad ones – especially those who do nothing but spout populist rhetoric designed to get maximum votes through stop-gap measures, all at the expense of sound policies.I mean, think about it. In every campaign, you only ever see people campaigning for this and that candidate, and always in glowing terms. Rarely do you see negative campaigns. Of course contending politicians won’t do negative campaigns – especially not in a country where commercials are always for your product versus X and Y – but why can’t concerned citizens just band together and say, “look at this guy’s record! don’t vote for him!” Come to that, despite the awesome freedom of the internet, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blog slam any particular candidate. Most political blogs come up with their own list of choices. I think the time has come for a list of anti-choices, with or without the benefit of a performance tracking system.
While this does not directly address the problem of poverty, it does have the potential to throw a monkeywrench into the machinery of politicians whose only way into power is through the exploitation of the poor via vote buying.
And sting operations where private persons masquerade as voters to receive vote-buying money while filming the whole transaction via a hidden camera. I have reservations about the admissibility of that sort of evidence in court, but properly done, sting operations can at least shame a corrupt candidate back under whatever rock he crawled out from under.
Poverty is a serious issue, and not just in the obvious ways. The persistence of poverty and the ease with which poverty can be exploited unbalances elections, predisposing to the adoption of populist policies that only worsen the plight of the poor.
At the end of the day, mitigating the effect of poverty on elections is not the COMELEC’s responsibility alone. It is a shared burden; and despite everything that may be suggested today or in the future, for many of us the work still begins with simply refusing the money.