by Dr. Nicole Curato
Certainly the country needs a leader willing to boldly go where no man has gone before. A self-declared intergalactic space ambassador, Carreon’s track record may or may not involve sealing the first peace treaty between the Klingon Empire and The United Federation of Planets. It bodes well for the commander in chief to have had experience in interspecies negotiation. Peace in Muslim Mindanao, fraught as it is with tension and resistance, may seem child’s play to a man able to walk away victorious from a rampaging phalanx of Klingon birds of prey.
This, of course, is my facetious way of appreciating Allan Carreon, Space Ambassador, one of many candidates who had filed for candidacy for next year’s elections. The number of presidential aspirants who filed their certificates of candidacy this month is record-breaking. There are many who have criticized the phenomenon, arguing it further confuses an already confusing electoral race.
The Commission on Election’s law department moved to disqualify 125 of 130 candidates. “The State,” according to a Supreme Court ruling, has “a compelling interest to ensure that its electoral exercises are rational, objective and orderly.” Individuals judged to have made a mockery of the election process—the “palpably ridiculous” ones—as well as those who do not have the funds to mount a national campaign have to be disqualified. Running for Presidency, it has been argued, is a matter of privilege, and not a constitutional right.
From Nuisance to Outliers
Others, however, have taken a more sympathetic position. Commission on Elections spokesperson James Jimenez, for example, has encouraged reporters to call unqualified candidates “outliers” instead of “nuisance.”
It “makes a lot of sense,” he says, “to call these candidates outliers, simply because that is – in fact – what they are.”
The outliers represented “ideas that most people consider too outrageous, and they have personalities that border on the gleefully insane.”
The term, he adds, is not judgmental, as it simply indicates a deviation from society’s own predisposition. He is careful to distinguish candidates from the candidacy. He clarifies that the term nuisance refers to the character of the candidacy, not the person hoping to run for office. He acknowledges the public’s tendency to dismiss such candidates outright, but he also underscores the importance of hearing their case before the Commission decides on their status.
Not Only in the Philippines
Bizarre political aspirants, it must be pointed out, are not unique to the Philippines. Instead, they are part of a broader global phenomenon of outliers running against mainstream parties and established political personalities. Even in “advanced” democracies, colorful candidates have been a constant feature of electoral politics.
In this year’s UK general elections, for example, a one-man party called Give Me Back Elmo challenged Prime Minister David Cameron’s seat. Dressed as a Muppet on Election Day, the candidate successfully photobombed the images of the Prime Minister casting his vote.
In Nottingham, the Deputy Prime Minister’s Party received fewer votes than The Church of the Militant Elvis in a council by-election. Britain’s representative to the Eurovision Singing Contest has also been a staple in British elections, whose aim is to make it to the Guinness Book of World Records by having zero votes. Just last year, Germany made history by electing the first satirical party to the European Parliament—the Die Partei (The Party), formerly known as the Party for Labor, Rule of Law, Animal Protection, Promotion of Elites and Grassroots Democratic Initiative. Part of its parody platform involved banning tourists from engaging in a pub crawls across inner German cities.
And in Canada’s recently concluded elections, the Rhinoceros Party – an obscure, legally registered political party – found its way into the political scene. Among its campaign promises include repealing laws of gravity as well as building taller schools to promote “higher education.”
They also committed to “keeping none of our promises.”
What do these “outliers” tell us about the character of politics today? Can these characters play a productive role in democratic life?
The Promise of No-Hope Candidates
Some sociologists have observed that the rise of colorful political actors is closely linked to the increasing sense of political disaffection among citizens.
Demonization of politicians has become an all-consuming character of modern politics, such that membership in political parties among western liberal democracies is in steady decline. Mistrust in politicians creates a vacuum for alternative voices to express such disillusionment, popularly manifested in the use of satirical political actors. These personalities not only provide comic relief in a tedious electoral process, but also seriously question the authenticity and moral credentials of traditional politicians.
In Poland, for example, the Polish Beer Lovers’ Party unexpectedly won sixteen seats in the lower house in the 1990s, a victory that observers consider an expression of a post-communist society’s deep distrust against established political parties. Satire, when delivered properly, can be subversive.
The Philippine case, however, is distinct. Most outliers who filed their COCs had no clear intentions to perform satire. Instead, they garnered an unintended satirical power through the public’s reaction to their candidacies.
When netizens say they prefer to vote for Archangel Lucifer over any of the leading presidential contenders, they produce a strong critique against the shallow pool of viable candidates. When senatorial candidate Victor Quijano is celebrated for the clarity of his platform on federalism, the chemical engineer who filed his COC wearing faded shorts and a T-shirt creates a powerful contrast against tandems whose unity is limited to the choice of color for their coordinated outfits.
Some argue that calling political unknowns nuisance candidates is misplaced discrimination, as it is candidates who engage in vote buying, dynastic rule and intimidation who make an actual mockery of our democratic procedures. To this extent, this year’s outliers served both an entertaining and productive role in our democracy, bringing into sharp focus the tragic irony that defines the 2016 elections.
The problem that outliers expose, however, runs deeper. Their appearance forces us to confront the fact that 6 years since we lamented the disintegration of Philippine elections into a playground of political dynasties, today, the only citizens with the courage to challenge political giants are the alleged fools who promise to legislate winter into Philippine climate. This says something about us as a society. It speaks of our inability to reclaim our political future from traditional politicians, and of our collective cowardice to organize and present credible and winnable alternatives that can get a fair shot at changing the course of our nation.
So for now, let us laugh. Because when the long list of 130 becomes a short list of 5, we will all be depressed.