Monday, April 26, 2010


In Jose Saramago's novel 'Seeing' an imaginary electorate in an imaginary country came out in full force to vote. But at the end of the tally, 83 percent of the ballots were blank. The remaining 17 percent were votes for the p.o.t.r (the party on the right), the p.o.t.l (the party on the left) and the p.o.t.m (the party in the middle). But what had happened to the majority of the votes? Were they stolen? Was this the result of massive electoral fraud? Or the work of terrorists?

After having read Saramago's political allegory, I wondered if such a thing were possible in real life. What if, come May 10, all registered voters were to vote for absolutely no one? What if, by some unknown force, the governed refused to choose the next set of those who would govern?

I must confess such an option is becoming more attractive, if fantastical, given the way the election discourse has steadily degenarated into meaningless noise. The controversies, the scandals, the accusations and counter-accusations all cloud what should be tackled front and center. What are the things we deem important? Poverty alleviation? Security? Tax reduction? Employment? Universal access to basic education? Better hospitals? And how do we go about addressing these?

I wonder if "non-traditional media" is not simply dancing to the tune set by "mainstream media." After all, meaningless noise still generates money for MSM. People still consume what is fed them, and consumers will choose to patronize the easily digestible, the simple, the "entertaining."

Well, why blame the media at all? Shouldn't the candidates be setting the agenda about what is to be discussed and debated in public? If candidates think of themselves as products, as it seems they do, they will market themselves according to what they think their consumers want and need.

In the end, it seems, the quality of electoral discourse reflects what we passive consumers of political noise, want and need. We want morality plays. We want good guys and bad guys. We want scandals and controversies. Like fishwives and tambays, really all we seem to expect from our politics is chismis.

The lack of seriousness with which we treat this election borders on the hysterical. It is the same hysteria one experiences when one witnesses a brutal murder or indeed any such vile or criminal act. The hilarity which follows can only be the logical reaction of the desperate pushed beyond limits. Desperation is all around. And the Filipino wants to be entertained.


stuart-santiago said...

i think it's because we don't want to dig too deeply into anything because we can't handle the complicated truths about(and what it would take to turn around) our worsening political, economic, social, moral, intellectual, and health conditions. but i like to think that people are not only entertained, they are also picking up a lot of new, even rare, information, subliminally and not, so it's a consciousness-raising exercise (whether they know it or not). nakaka-impatient lang talaga, but what can we expect of an inadequately informed public.

Jego said...

One could argue that the issues that are important are a given and that all voters implicitly trust that the candidates would do something about them since that is their job. The issues during elections therefore are centered on the character of the candidates. Is the candidate honest? Is he corrupt? Can we really trust this guy? Those things become front and center so the political discourse looks like chismis, but really it's not. The voters do want to dig deeply. They want to understand. But first, they want to know if the candidate can be trusted. Then let's talk issues or else if you can't be trusted with the power we'll give you, why bother?

Anonymous said...


sparks said...


i suppose. but what sort of information are people willing to digest anyway? my concern is sometimes i think people don't exactly know what their personal stake is in these matters.


thought about that too. sure - character matters. but everyone, presumably, has had misdeeds in the past. these, after all, are career politicians.

but in discussing issues - the position these candidates take - also shows their character. it shows what their priorities are - would they rather spend on x or y? would they prioritize x or y? making choices and justifying policy preferences - these are deeply political processes. some people will lose out, some people will gain.

how politicos address these issues also show character. in the discussion - it is clear what we as an electorate have at stake.

stuart-santiago said...

youre right, mostly people don't exactly know what their personal stake is in these matters. i tend to think it's a failure of media ;-(