How to Win an Election: Lessons from the Experts, edited by Chay Florentino-Hofileña, Ateneo School of Government-Center for Social Policy, 2006.
by Alan Robles
Let's say you're a young, honest and earnest professional who's had it with the state of Philippine politics and wants to take action. Specifically, you want to run for office on a clearly-spelled out, issues-oriented, non-traditional, reformist platform. And furthermore, you intend to run a cleanly-financed campaign free of sleaze, patronage and graft.
Traditionally, you'd have two realistic options. One, immediately set fire to all your money and go back to whatever you were doing before delusion struck; two, just climb the nearest tall building and jump.
Now, though, you might just have a third choice: pick up a copy of How to Win an Election and get up to speed on what you're getting into. This book is refreshing because it's not a high-flown, unreal threnody on the glories of Philippine democracy, full of fustian and bombast. It's a practical manual that lays out everything a candidate has to do, from soup to nuts.
Veteran reporters Booma Cruz, Miriam Grace-Go, Aries Rufo and Carmela Fonbuena interviewed strategists and (somewhat) non-traditional politicians who ran winning campaigns. They've also added a wealth of minutiae -- rules and regulations, relevant laws and details that often trip up unwary candidates. To top it off, the book does a huge public service by actually listing all the country's existing registered political parties .
When it invites potential candidates to ask themselves if they have what it takes, it doesn't mean do they have good looks, love their families or are close to God; it means "are you cut out for this? Are the voters ready for you? Will you be able to see your votes through?" There's a world of agony and possible grief behind the answer to each question.
If the answer to each is "yes", the slim, glossy softcover spells out, in thematic, logical chapters (complete with checklists and cases), how to run a campaign and just possibly win -- without using force, graft or trickery. The main weapon it offers is knowledge: of the laws, of the factors that go into every campaign, of the environment. It leads off with an excellent short essay, by Dr. Dennis Gonzalez, which explains why Philippine elections and politics are the way they are.
How to Win doesn't waste time bemoaning the country's political culture. When it states that an unknown candidate running against TV personality Kris Aquino would need to spend P30 million and she only P3 million, it doesn't rail against the wackiness of a culture where a ditzy star is considered a shoo-in for public office. It's also frank in warning that a candidate could be approached by special interest groups (code for crime syndicates, or communist rebels). How to deal with it is up to the candidate. And, by the way, it reveals at which point a candidate is likely to be cheated (during counting at the municipal canvassing center).
Dispensing with any illusions of an all-wise electorate, How to Win explains that voters can roughly be divided ino groups: visceral types vote according to personal relations, immediate benefits, entertainment value. Abstract voters, of which there are few and largely confined to the middle class, choose on the basis of actual platforms and performance,
The book is ful of tips, for instance what slurs to watch out for (an increasingly popular negative strategy is to question a candidate's citizenship) and strategic insight (the battle is always local, votes and voters have to be organized at the precint level). It points how that the main reason it might be worth joining a party isn't just because of funds. Membership entitles a candidate to have access to Election Returns.
In a way, the book's advice amounts to a mordant, commentary on the state of elections here. For instance, when it says about speechwriting, "it is best to provide your own thoughts", you immediately suspect this isn't what most candidates do.
Does any of this amount to anything that can actually help an idealistic candidate win? Yes and no. Yes, in that it lays out every possible factor on the table...each page is worth reading. No, in that in the end, every election is still a lottery where, between two equal contenders, money and organization spell the difference.
Still, editor Chay Florentino-Hofileña points out that there have been successful campaigns run by non-traditional politicians (candidates who had no entrenched interests, or are not members of dynasties). Whether these winners will not themselves turn into trapos is another thing. As Hofileña notes, none of them can be judged ideal or perfect candidates.
The book's artwork is a bit crude, and perhaps it could do with a Pilipino version, sold cheaply in large numbers, but How to Win an Election could be part of an antitdote to those two widespread paralyzing toxic beliefs: that our politicians are hopelessly corrupt, and the voters are stupid beyond redemption. Its wealth of technical information makes essential reading not just for candidates, but also for every reporter covering the election.