PART of the frustration of businessmen, especially expatriates, with local politics lies in a lack of understanding on the complexity of the process. It is good to be guided by the nature of politics and politicians in these parts.
There are more than two political parties. Including party-lists with various advocacies (including the need for jeepneys as part of mass transport), there are more than 50 parties. This number does not include other parties like weddings and cookouts in the beach.
Ideologies seldom drive action. There is no conservative party that promotes less government intervention in the free market or a left-of-center ideology advocating same-sex marriage, free graduate programs for the poor, and higher minimum wages.
So, it is not ideas that drive few personalities, but personalities driven by few ideas.
The preferred method of influencing change is not persuasion or the strength of arguments. Debates for the clash of ideas and articulation of programs are avoided. Instead, one-on-one interviews with pre-screened questions and individual posturing are preferred.
It is media pressure or the more direct “incentivized” approach that gather legislative signatures, silence critics, or start a seemingly spontaneous show of support or opposition. When signatories of a motion are said to have withdrawn, the first question that is asked is — from which bank?
We have think tanks promoting a particular ideological view. But these are more of research organizations looking at climate change, the growth of e-commerce, and the survival of MSMEs. There are also economic forecasting groups, polling organizations, and sociological analysts speculating on how 2050 will look like. (Home ownership will rise to 72.5%.)
It is expediency and self-interest that shape political action, including party affiliation and substitutions. So, it is the winning party (or its leader) that gets to be the biggest with turncoats and new converts.
There are some players in the political scene that are not really politicians. Some are big business, big media, digital marketers (also known as “troll farms”), or all three. Because political parties are porous and interchangeable into factions and splits, it follows that groupings are sometimes based on identification with these non-political players.
This list of key players changes periodically. Even after substitutions, changes keep the election scene lively. Polls can determine support and funding. Foes and friends switch sides to seek the greatest advantage. Some just cruise through a campaign with some token interest, saving up the donations, if they come. Political alliances are temporary and driven by expediency rather than a common ideology, it is good to watch which players are moving together, not necessarily belonging to a particular party, or a faction of it.
The working press tends to malleable. Thus, stories that destabilize the economy and make suits nervous provide a natural attraction for this breed. The left-leaning orientation makes media practitioners naturally sympathetic to unions, breakaway factions, spinners of conspiracy theories, beleaguered mayors and anyone that can provide a sound bite that rattles the plates.
The only refuge for businessmen is to find key players whose narrow interests coincide with theirs. While this perpetuates personality politics, it mobilizes cause-oriented groups, including those who advocate private enterprise and the wisdom of markets, to plunge into politics through fund-raisers and direct donations, not necessarily limited to food and Christmas décor.
This is better than staying in the sidelines wringing one’s hands and trying to make sense of the chaos.
Sure, the economy seems to be coming out of its pandemic coma. As it struggles to sit up, we want to guide it gently out of the hospital and into the sunshine… without the prospect of being mugged again.
As for those old-fashioned values of national purpose, integrity, and the mantel of public service, maybe at least one or two candidates can be mentioned in the conversation. Just as quickly, the dialogue shifts to wielding political power and the ability to make compromises to promote economic recovery and attract investments with a promise of an even playing field.
When the dust settles, a new administration is sworn in. Expats have the option to just shrug and leave it all behind or more likely stay and figure it all out… after a short vacation at the beach.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda