Send in the clowns

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Send in the clowns

By Tony Samson

STEPHEN Sondheim’s eponymous song from his musical A Little Night Music is good background music for the 2019 elections which just kicked off with the filing of the CoCs. Photos of known personalities on their way to the registration desk, accompanied by families, well-known predecessors themselves are front-page stuff.

Can unfamiliar stragglers be far behind, even when they are curtly dismissed as comic relief, objects of derision, and yes, nuisances? Why do they even show up knowing they have no chance of a TV interview on their platform of government unless it’s for “the bizarre side of the news”? Wait, maybe that’s the whole point. They just want their fifteen seconds of fame. Media always obliges — so did you win the bet that you’ll be on TV? The questions directed at these unknowns are disrespectful and mocking — that’s a nice tattoo on your forehead.

There are obligatory moves to weed out these gatecrashers, including those with similar names as other candidates that will confuse the voters. The purge does not cover siblings who happen to have the same surnames (even if she’s married) or if one sibling uses a screen alias and the other his real name.

Comelec trims down the candidates to be included on the ballot form. Many otherwise qualified contenders in terms of citizenship, residence requirements, and minimum age are deemed to “put the electoral process in mockery or disrepute” and classified as nuisance candidates. The process of controlling the pests from polluting the electoral process can be contentious.

The tag of “nuisance candidate” is seldom graciously accepted. In one presidential election, 81 candidates registered their interest in running the country and appointing friends as Cabinet members (more of their kind). It is not possible to design a debating format to allow more than ten prospects to state his or her position on a national issue, like: what is a legitimate candidate?

Being mentally unbalanced may be one basis for being dismissed as a nuisance. Still rational individuals can string sentences together to form a coherent paragraph to argue why the country should apply to be the fifty-first state or why someone like him who is unknown even to his neighbors should be a possible senator — I have a wardrobe of suits, with many pockets.

Ours is the only country with a specific provision in the election code for nuisance candidates. Maybe, in our society, there is some tolerance for crackpots and soap-box orators to be allowed to join the political conversation. (Some of them have radio programs and blogs.) Many countries have screening mechanisms like a minimum percentage of votes in primaries or in previous elections to flush out the pests. Still some others don’t bother with the process at all.

Does it follow that those not disqualified as pests are therefore qualified as candidates? Is there an ideal number of contestants for the twelve available Senate seats? Does celebrity status confer automatic entry into the fold of acceptable contenders?

It is difficult to set objective criteria for classifying candidates as nuisances. Some grounds are clear enough like mental incapacity (this is not always obvious), absence of any program of government, having no political party, being comatose, dire lack of resources to mount a credible campaign, and simply being too old to run (or walk). Wait, even that is not a disqualification — I had coffee with the first president of the Republic.

Qualifications for the position of accounting clerk for a funeral parlor (can you define dead assets) are more stringent than the constitutional requirements for Chief Executive. What position in the private sector states as the only qualifications for a job minimum age, citizenship, and residence? No wonder there are so many applicants, and no screening mechanism — those with suspicious motives need not apply.

Even among ostensibly qualified candidates, there are those that stand no chance of winning. Success in other fields do not necessarily translate into electability. And yet, boxers, movie stars, and media celebrities with big fan bases manage to get into the official list of candidates.

After elections, it is some winners that may turn out to be the real pests. Nuisance candidates are definitely more harmless than their elected counterparts.


Tony Samson is chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda