Editorial: Working on democracy

·3 min read

THE country will hold on May 9, 2022 the general elections for all the executive and legislative posts in the country except at the barangay level.

Each voter will choose a president, vice president, 12 senators and congress representative, among others.

Voting is partisan but governance affects all, an insight this year reinforced by the impact all Filipinos felt from the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, community lockdowns, recession, typhoons and other calamities, such as the Taal Volcano eruption.

The people’s suffering arising from these crises is alleviated or exacerbated, depending on the problem-solving and decision-making calls of national and local leaders, as well as their values in respecting or flouting the rule of law and the processes integral in democracy.

Given the debility of individual memories and the aggressiveness of partisan machinations, citizens and civil society must cull from the 2020 US elections strategies for transforming Filipino citizens into educated and discerning voters on May 9, 2022.

Despite the 238,000 dead and 9.95 million infected that put the US at the lead of countries affected by the Covid-19, American voters did not overwhelmingly repudiate the bid of President Donald Trump, as predicted by pollsters.

Trump’s better-than-forecasted performance revealed in 2016 and again in 2020 that the populist leader retained his appeal to a sector of the public that felt “left behind and ignored economically and culturally,” according to analysts interviewed by the media network Al Jazeera on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.

Populist leaders attract followers that are stereotyped as uneducated, easily manipulated and politically extreme. Yet, holding this view means refusing to engage with citizens holding contradicting views and addressing their reasons for feeling excluded and marginalized.

The deterioration of civility in discourse, particularly on social media, makes social dialogue and engagement particularly challenging. However, deepening social divisiveness will only be exploited for partisan gains and manipulated to pit citizens against other citizens.

Democracy is an arena of contestation. On theory, exchanges of arguments should surface dissenting views and distill citizens’ dialogues into consensus. In reality, not all citizens are represented or take part in the key portals of public engagement, particularly communication and governance.

For circulating diverse views and experiences and filtering messages that cause malicious harm and sow distrust without reason, the role of media — both legacy media and social media — is crucial.

In the post-mortems made by US media after the “shocking” win of Trump in 2016, the New York Times’ public editor Liza Spayd wrote on the necessity of journalists to go into self-reflection: “I hope (the “Times’s”) editors will think hard about the half of America the paper too seldom covers.”

Inclusiveness means bringing down these walls, crucial for educating and mobilizing the voters to choose leaders based on performance, plans, and programs.

Social media reach the educated, the urbanized and the professional. However, as the pandemic has revealed of our distance-education woes, other forms of legacy media, such as radio and television, reach better those who live in distant and remote localities, as well as those with fewer resources for digital technology.

The 2020 US elections also highlighted how the electoral process embraced many American youths too young to vote but capable and willing to volunteer as poll workers. The pandemic resulted in a number of the elderly or those with preexisting conditions to drop out from serving, a gap which students in high school and college stepped in to fill.

The young have the idealism, the energy and the creativity to take more active roles in governance. As members of the polity, the youth share the stake of making each vote count and sustaining the institution of democracy: elections.