Political systems that resort to arbitrary rather than evidenced means of measuring success or failure tend to be predisposed to such high levels of failure that one begins to covet arbitrary restrictions on democracy in order to minimise the expected damage that various politicians will inflict on the nation.
Nowhere is this defeatist phenomenon expressed more openly than in the case of political term limits. When it comes to political term limits, The Philippines has some of the strictest and therefore most crippling in the world. To understand why term limits sustain and foment a national inferiority complex that leads to inferior political results, one must understand that in the world of business, there are no “term limits”. Instead, the private sector functions much more like a parliamentary political system.
In business, those who perform well are rewarded with increased pay or promotions to a high position. The same is true of members of parliament who are rewarded by promotions from the backbenches to the front benches and in some cases, eventually to the leadership. When a capable leader wins many elections on a proven record for success, political power is the just reward.
Inversely, if someone in the business world is performing poorly, he can be removed from his position. The same is true of under-performing heads of government in a parliamentary system.
Thus, parliamentary systems allow leadership to be derived from the assessment of performance – not just once every few years, but literally on a daily basis. In this sense, parliamentary systems are vastly more meritocratic than presidential ones. Just as meritocracy is the best method to achieve success in the business world, the same is clearly true in respect of the political world.
A further advantage is that by electing parties rather than individuals, parliamentary systems are more stable than presidential systems whose election cycles can witness vast political undulations when an incumbent is replaced by someone with a radically different personality (even if from the same party). By contrast, in parliamentary systems, even when one party leader is replaced by someone with a radically different personality, strong cooperative party governance minimises any radical policy shifts even during times of changes to the leadership.
There is a further aspect which makes parliamentary governance vastly more stable than presidential systems. In a presidential system, overthrowing an entire political regime is often as easy as physically removing the president from power. In a parliamentary system, even if one were to assassinate the prime minister as happened in Sweden in 1986, the overall political system remains stable and the existing government can continue its work in spite an otherwise major personal loss.
Even when Thailand has at various times had to suspend normal democratic processes to ensure security during times of internal strife or the crisis which transpired in the 1970s and 1980s due to instability in neighbouring Cambodia, Thailand’s parliament (known as the National Assembly) continued to exist, thus providing institutional continuity to the rapidly developing country even during times when electoral processes continued to evolve in order to meet the needs of major overriding crises.
In the Philippine presidential system however, one is faced with the embarrassing situation of a convoluted form of governance whose inbuilt deadlock and whose anti-meritocratic term limits not only discourage optimism among the people but ironically even depress the enemies of The Philippines.
It goes without saying that overthrowing a head of government or state is hard work. In order for this “black market investment” to pay off, one needs to do a clear cost-benefit analysis. In The Philippines, whilst there is no stabilising parliamentary institution, there is a very visible presidency. And yet, because of the severe anti-meritocratic term limits imposed on the president, few have even bothered trying to overthrow the president since the imposition of the present ridiculous term limits as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.
The closest that The Philippines has come to a genuine overthrow of state authority since 1987 have been the self-aggrandising criminal exploits of Sunny Trillanes and this isn’t saying much in the international scheme of things.
How pathetic must one’s constitution be that it restricts the ability of capable men and women from governing so much so that even the enemies of the nation think that it is not worth their time to conduct an overthrow of the head of state? There is hardly a point of resorting to violence in order to accomplish that which the 1987 Constitution has been able to achieve without the shedding of blood nor the wasting of resources.
It says a great deal when a system combines the worst of anti-meritocratic traditions, instability and deadlock whilst simultaneously being so hopelessly unfit for purpose that even the country’s enemies realise that the system itself has done more damage to the nation than a would be coup plotter or revolutionary could ever hope to do.