Party lists in the Philippines: Segmented representation

Does knowing the names of candidates on the lists jeopardize the very concept of party-list representation? In an argument I have seen nowhere else, Alioden Dalaig, director of the law department of the Philippine Commission on Elections (Comelec) says so. Further, he says:

It is the “policy” of the poll body to keep under wraps names of party-list nominees before the elections.

The Philippines Party-List Law is certainly unusual. Some sources call the Philippines lower-house electoral system “parallel,” but it is not–at least in the usually understood sense of two tiers, one elected by plurality voting and the other employing the principle of proportional representation (with no linkage between the two tiers). A feature of Cory Aquino’s rather hastily assembled 1987 constitution, the electoral law for the lower house of Congress remains mostly plurality in single-seat districts. The party-list component that was added–shall I say grafted?–on to the existing FPTP system is, for reasons noted below, not PR, even for the small number of seats elected from party lists (twenty percent of all the seats in the lower house).

The Law is claimed to be a means of allowing “marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined political constituencies” to gain seats if they clear 2% of the national vote. However, it sets a cap of a mere three seats that any of these parties may win (regardless of vote percentage).

Not exactly a mechanism for encouraging party-building or even approximating proportional representation. Rather, it would best be described as segmented representation–on both dimensions. On the interparty dimension, major parties (whether national or regionally concentrated) win seats in the nominal/plurality tier, while very small “parties” win (limited) representation in the party-list tier. On the intraparty dimension, given the weak organization of most Philippine parties, candidates are all important in the single-seat districts. But candidates in the party list tier are to be kept hidden from public view!

The party-list component in the Philippines is indeed an “anomaly in the Charter.”

0 thoughts on “Party lists in the Philippines: Segmented representation

  1. While COMLEC may not formally announce the names on each party’s list (and I’m not sure this has been a consistent policy over time) the names of the candidates are fairly widely known before the elections as far as I’ve seen. The fact that each party is limited to only 3 seats certainly makes communication of who is each list easier. (The Philippines party list is an interesting animal. I’m working on a couple of papers about the party list–one about the the ghettoization of certain interests as a result of the party list, and the other about the coordination challenges for the communist party which runs several front parties in each election.)

  2. I would agree with you.
    It’s one of the most badly drafted provisions in the Constitution which has to be revised. Being a former American colony, with its profound distrust for anything other than first-past-the-post, it is very likely that it would be abolished in the near-future.
    I would have wanted to see a pure PR list system implemented for upper house elections, which would be a throwback to an earlier system where people were allowed to enter a party name in the Senate race rather than individual names. (This does not require a change to the Charter, because “at large” could be interpreted to mean a PR list system.) Another idea would have been to implement a similar system in the local assemblies, which does not require a constitutional amendment.
    I think the idea should be to ensure that the Left and the Right would form coalitions of like-minded parties from different sectors, which would then have been the ones to form the lists. The law was deliberately (I think) badly drafted to protect the interests of the district representatives, all of whom come from the traditional, largely Rightist, elite.

  3. Just a correction–when I meant a similar system for local assemblies, I meant a PR list system.
    I think it would have worked better if this were tried out locally, but then it would be bad for the somewhat powerful mayors and governors. In the Philippines, local councils are often rubber stamps for the executive.

  4. Pingback: Fruits and Votes

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