Monday, 22 March 2010

Is Vote Buying Here to Stay?

(this article is the Executive Summary of Michael Canares' paper "The Economics of Local Elections: A Closer Look at Votebuying in the Municipality of Malanoy")

Election in the Philippines is fiesta time. It is a very colorful affair strewn with songs and dances, local parties, solicitation papers, advertisements, “bayle”, food and drinks, and even money – cold cash at that. In the Philippines you can see sample ballots pinned with paper bills distributed by “coordinators” the eve before Election Day. And sometimes, in the Philippines, you can see how those paper bills make a difference on election results.

While it is an undeniable fact that vote-buying is an accepted and a regular activity in Philippine local elections, there are only a few studies that indicate the propensity, if not the gravity of the problem more particularly in the context of municipal elections, where the relationship of the politician and the voter is sometimes reduced to a personal level. While money undoubtedly flood the streets during election days, not much has been said regarding the extent it can significantly affect the decision of the voter during election day and the politician’s standing in the election results.

Is vote buying here to stay? Is money really an important commodity to get to an elected position? Where do these candidates get all the money? Why do voters accept it and how does it influence their political decisions? How do people use the money? These are just some of the few questions we are tempted to ask.

Elections, as sites of political participation, are supposed to be exercises of rational choice. This view assumes that people participate through the ballot on the basis of rational principles such as ‘democracy’, party programs, efficiency, constitutional agenda – all of which try to affirm one’s membership in and identification with a rational and modern state (Alejo, et al, 1996).

This study however, reveals that elections in Malanoy ceased to be as such. To a certain extent, logical reasoning, understanding and appreciation of political agenda, competence and commitment of local leaders were at some points subdued by the hues of money and the dispensation of favors by the candidate days before election day.

Politicians contend that the amount of money one needs to spend for each voter as ‘inangayan’ or ‘palit’ and the manner by which the funds are to be distributed would largely depend on a handful of uncontrolled variables – game plan of opponent, the required number of votes to win, one’s game plan versus fund availability, channel selection and distribution plan among others. They also revealed that in most cases, they use marking of ballots and post election evaluation as primary strategies to ensure that the money they spent, that they said come from their wallets and from donations, are not put to waste.

Voters, on the other hand, opined that they do not really sell their votes and that they do not really demand from candidates how much they would like to receive. The manner by which favors are dispensed days before or on election day generally depends on the candidate’s generosity and not on the demands of the voter. Whatever they receive, they accept, especially those who poignantly are in need of the funds for daily sustenance.

While it may be said that generally, perceptions of people regarding the acceptability of the practice differ largely across educational backgrounds, economic class, age and sense of economic power as indicated by the presence or absence of jobs, and that somehow both the candidate and the voter have ways of rationalizing the practice, there is a growing tendency for the candidates and the voters of Malanoy to legitimize vote buying as a natural phenomenon on election day, and its normalcy preludes a certain sense of acceptability.

Both voters and politicians contend the moral dilemma, if ever there is, regarding vote-buying only comes on election day and because there is hardly any difference regarding the manner by which their political involvement change after the elections, with or without vote buying, the issue does not stand ground. After elections, things go back to normal and in the experience of most voters of Malanoy, the times at which they get to be affected by the affairs of government are minimal, and the situations by which they can have any effect on the realm of governance are rare.

It is pretty obvious that the prerequisite consideration of candidates regarding vote buying is how much they need to win and how they will be able to source it. Conversely, it is also very clear that majority of the voter’s concern regarding vote-buying revolves around the issue of how much they receive and from whom they receive it. The consequential dimension of the issue surfaces only after a candidate already has the money to dispense and the voter already receives the money given.

The survey revealed that more candidates (53%) believed that the practice could be stopped as compared to those who don’t (42%) while the rest (5%) are still undecided. For those who said that it could be stopped, they suggested strict enforcement of the law as the primary means to employ to stop the practice. The said that while there is the law that prohibits vote buying, government failed to implement it.

Voters, on the other hand, were asked the same question, as to whether or not there is still a possibility that vote buying will be stopped in the next coming elections. The survey revealed frustrating results. Majority (60.5%) of the voters believed that it is already impossible to stop vote buying during the elections, as compared to the few (35%) who said that it could be done.

Majority (59.8%) of those who said that it is impossible to stop buying opined that such is so because the people of their town are already used to it and that normally, people expect to receive money on election day. On the other hand, those who said that vote buying could still be stopped said that it could be done if candidates will not give (24.3%), if people will unite to refuse vote buying money (13%), and if the government will strictly implement the law (10%).

There are two emerging patterns that can help temper vote buying, not only in Malanoy, but in other localities as well. First, it is on the will of the candidate and that of the voter to refuse to give and accept money that the solution to the problem largely rests. The voter must not accept. The candidate must not give. But further, it must be made sure that all voters must not accept, and all candidates must not give. Absent the condition “all”, vote buying will still perpetuate itself, with less effort.

Applying the well-established principles of economics regarding supply and demand, we may say that if the demand for vote buying is high (voters will likely receive), then the suppliers will compete to meet the demand (candidates will likely give). If you curb the demand (voters start to refuse), then you will have the consequent effect of supply decline (candidates will start to stop giving money). However, we have to note that even in this clearly defined economic principle, there are still some exceptions – that even if demand is already low (voters will already refuse), the suppliers can still persist to produce the goods (candidates will continue to give).

This would entail the fact that the candidate must not have the resources, and the voter must not have a need for them. For if candidates have the resources, they can still give and if the voters still have a need for the money, they will still be tempted to receive. But this very simplistic view will find no ground in the current context of Malanoy. Majority of the candidates are well off (thus, they can give) and majority of the voters are poor (thus, they will likely receive).

To provide the equilibrium to this dilemma, the second pattern has to be put into place – the strict enforcement of the law. While there is the law that prohibits vote buying and vote selling, it still has to find its teeth in its administrative and judicial implementation. If candidates have the resources, the law implementers must make sure that the candidates can not make use of this resource to achieve political ends through vote-buying. On the other hand, if voters have the need for the resources, the law implementers must make sure that they are precluded from receiving such.

It is an imperative therefore that the problem must be approached at both angles. Preventing candidates from making use of their money to buy votes without precluding voters from receiving the favors will not solve the problem. In like manner, to prevent the voter from accepting anything from the candidate, without preventing the candidate from dispensing favors will also prove a failure. Both the voter’s desire to satisfy a need, and the candidate’s desire to win with his money, must be ably tempered by the implementers of the law.