Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The 2004 Philippine Elections: Political Change in an Illiberal Democracy

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

The 2004 Philippine Elections: Political Change in an Illiberal Democracy

Article excerpt


   In such an atmosphere of fraud, I feel so disheartened and

      --Faith-based American observer on the
      2004 Philippine elections
      (Sy and Aravilla 2004).

   There was so much violence ... and people seemed to accept the fact
   that people got killed.

      --German observer (Sy and Aravilla 2004).

   Even with the violence and the continuing problems, we still believe
   that the election was credible.
      --Philippine National Police (Esguerra, 2004).

   If we could have such elections in Afghanistan, it would be
      --Afghan observer (Philippine Star, 19 May 2004).

Who is right? Is the Philippines a democracy? This article argues yes, but only after accounting for the differences between democracy and liberalism and recognizing that democracy, while not ideal, has made considerable headway since the ouster of strongman Ferdinand Marcos. Since 1986 elections have again become the primary mechanism to determine who controls government, the fundamental characteristic of a democratic state.

Elections also reveal the values of the broader political culture. Using the 2004 polls as a window of analysis, the primary argument of this paper is that the growth of democracy has outpaced that of liberalism since 1986, an imbalance that has created illiberal democracy. Granted, a focus on elections may overlook groups that seek to bypass or leave the state, in particular Islamic separatists and non-government organizations (NGOs). Moreover, this study analyses the conduct more than the results of the voting, under the assumption that the struggle for a new political order deserves as much attention as partisan rivalry.

Illiberal democracy in the Philippines rests on strong foundations. Hardly any of the institutions or attitudes discussed in this paper are simultaneously democratic and illiberal in every sense. Yet bad government, political violence, and People Power have generally undermined due process, while the reassertion of a democratic national identity, the rejection of authoritarian government and communist revolution by public opinion, and new institutions have helped democracy rebound from the Marcos era far more quickly than has liberalism.

Religion warrants special attention. In the Philippines, the struggle between state and society centres on the Catholic Church. If one defines "liberal" as seeking to change the status quo, it has become one of the country's most liberal institutions by challenging the state for fair elections, the rule of law, and human rights. On the other hand, Church activism impedes the comprehensive realization of secular politics, one of the key components of Western theories of development. The remainder of this article attempts to buttress these ideas. First, it reviews the conceptual differences between liberalism and democracy. Second, it shows that elections have become less violent and fraudulent since the Marcos era. Third, it explores illiberal democracy, as evidenced by the conduct of the elections, and concludes with a summary of the national imbalance between democracy and liberalism.

Liberalism and Democracy

The observers quoted above raise legitimate questions. To seek meaningful answers, it is useful to review the often overlooked differences between liberalism and democracy. The philosophical roots of liberalism stem from the European Enlightenment's challenge to a political order dominated by a small elite of monarchs, warlords, and clergy who ruled through practices such as the divine right of kings, reasons of state, investiture, and indulgence. Democracy, which is often traced to ancient Greece and Rome, is the ability of people to govern themselves. It gained a foothold in the West at about the same time as liberalism, and since 1945 has become the West's primary method of deciding changes in state leadership.

Liberalism and democracy have progressed unevenly across different regions and issues, and are still evolving. …

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