Putting an end to minority governments

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    ‘To prevent minority governments, I strongly feel we need to institute a 50%+1 requirement on the first ballot, wherein a candidate who gets this percentage of the votes cast is declared duly elected. Failing this, the top two vote getters run in a second round.’

    WE’VE always been “ruled” by minority governments – meaning governments that have not been able to capture the support of more than 50% of the electorate. Since 1992, the first election after the disputed Marcos-Cory presidential battle, the President of the Philippines has been elected with a simple plurality – garnering the most number of votes among all his or her rivals.

    In 1992, for example, with six major candidates on the presidential ballot, Fidel Ramos was elected with 5.3 million votes equal to 23.58% of total votes cast. His nearest rivals were Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who garnered 4.4M for 19.7%, and Danding Cojuango, who garnered 4.1M for 18.17%. Total voter turnout was 75.5% of total registered voters.

    Six years later, there were just three major candidates. Joseph Estrada won by a landslide with 10.7M as against his nearest rival, Speaker Joe de Venecia, who had 4.2M. But Estrada’s vote total only amounted to barely 40% of total votes cast; JDV got 16.8% while third placer Raul Roco got 13.4% with 3.7M votes. Of all registered voters, 86.5% cast their ballots.

    Estrada, if you remember, was out of Malacañang by 2001; after completing Estrada’s unexpired term, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ran to earn her own six-year term. The hotly contested and controversial election saw GMA win by more than one million votes, registering 12.9M for 39.9% of total votes cast. Fernando Poe Jr. garnered 11.7M for 36.5%. The three other candidates were Panfilo Lacson (3.5M for 10.8%), Raul Roco (2.0M for 6.45%) and Bro. Eddie Villanueva (1.9M for 6.16%).

    For 2004, 76.3% of all registered voters cast their ballots, although the opposition claimed that in some remote areas of Mindanao the turn-out was more than 100%.

    In 2010, Benigno Aquino III was swept into Malacañang on the heels of the death of former President Cory. PNoy garnered 15.2M for 42.08%. Runner-up Joseph Estrada garnered 9.5M or 28.25%, and former frontrunner Manny Villar only received 5.5M votes for 15.4%. Three other candidates (Gibo Teodoro with 4M for 11.33%, Bro. Eddie with 1.1M for 3.12% and Richard Gordon with 500,000 votes for 1.39%) made up the six-man cast which saw 74.34% of total voters actually casting their ballots.

    Most recently, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the reluctant candidate, ran away with the presidency in 2016 by winning 16.6M votes or 39.9% of total votes cast. Mar Roxas and Grace Poe were second and third, garnering 9.9M and 9.1M votes, respectively, for 23.5% and 21.1% of the votes. VP Jejomar Binay was fourth with 5.4M votes or 12.7%, while Miriam Santiago placed fifth with 1.4M votes or 3.4% of total cast. Of all registered voters, 81.5% cast their ballots.

    Note that in all elections except 1998 and 2010, the total votes for the second and third placers when added together are more than that of the winner’s.

    It is too late to tinker with the Constitution before the next elections – although desperate people will try and try – but I think the next President of the Philippines should take it upon himself to make sure minority governments never happen again. And this can be done through a properly constituted Constitutional amendment process beginning with elections for a Constitutional Convention (2022 or 2023) and the drafting process that could finish in time for a plebiscite in 2025 to 2026. By 2028 we troop to the polls for a new President under a new Constitution.

    To prevent minority governments, I strongly feel we need to institute a 50%+1 requirement on the first ballot, wherein a candidate who gets this percentage of the votes cast is declared duly elected. Failing this, the top two vote getters run in a second round.

    A cheaper option is to have voters choose two names: their first and second choices. In case no one gets 50%+1 on the first round, the second-choice votes for the top two candidates kick in and whoever garners the most after counting the second-choice votes is declared the winner.

    Some people feel that our moving away from a two-party system is what has given rise to minority governments; it is a factor, because with so many choices, voters split – but reinstituting a two-party system is no guarantee that a majority of voters will back one or the other.

    Why do I worry about minority governments?

    Some works on futurism and on government and politics highlight the trend towards a more volatile world, one riven by further strife and division made more possible because social media helps breed silos and echo chambers. Add to these the conflicting demands of pockets of the population, and this only means that governance will be a bigger problem for anyone on whom leadership is entrusted.

    Imagine a government that only has the support of a minority and, worse, one that is unable to turn statesman to build bridges to the alienated majority?

    Oh, and one more thing: let’s stop the practice of voting for President and Vice President separately. Under my proposed scenario, a vote for the President is enough – it is automatically a vote for the Vice President. We just add confusion and a potential source of further conflict inside government by electing two individuals from separate tickets. And we leave the president suspicious that the vice president could be plotting his poisoning throughout this term.

    So there: my suggestions to end the practice of electing minority governments. It will need a revision of our current Constitution, which I do not object to, provided it is done AFTER the next Presidential elections. The process of amending a Charter is too serious and too important to do haphazardly and under the cloud of doubt created when politicians rush to try to change the rules of the game when the game is about to end.

    So let’s do Charter Change right, and in the process put in place rules to help ensure the election of governments backed by a majority of the (voting) Filipino people.