Strengthening Political Parties

Article excerpt

Byline: Bernardo M Villegas

AS I said in a previous column, I used to be against a shift to a parliamentary form of government because of my perception that the Philippines at this stage of our democratic development does not have honest-to-goodness political parties. Philippine politics is too personality-oriented. Individual politicians change parties whenever convenient. There's no party loyalty.

I, therefore, argued that it would be dangerous to adopt the parliamentary form because party-shifting can lead to very frequent changes of government. This can be destabilizing.

Thanks to my colleagues in the political economy department of the University of Asia and the Pacific, I have become more enlightened on how real political parties can be fostered in our country. We are facing here a chicken-and-egg problem. Political parties are needed for an effective parliamentary form of government. But it is the parliamentary system which is most favorable to the growth of cohesive political parties.

Professor Clement Campo-sano, an expert on political systems, has provided me with the following convincing arguments that a parliamentary form of government is best for fostering the growth of political parties: "While it is true that the parliamentary system requires a strong party system, it is also true that this system is more conducive to the growth of stable and disciplined political parties. The parliamentary system places a greater premium than the presidential system on party cohesion, since a politician who wants to be prime minister can only become one through a strong and cohesive political party. No other path to power is available to him.

"After capturing the party's leadership, the aspiring leader must lead his party to electoral victory and insure its cohesiveness in order to form and maintain a politically viable government. To remain in power, he must endeavor to maintain not only his parliamentary majority but also the unified support of his party in parliament. The same holds true for any other member of the party aiming for higher office -- he must enjoy the support of his party-mates.

"The party leader who is now prime minister can only be assured of unified support if he brings into the Cabinet the other key leaders in the party. …