Thursday, August 6, 2009

Has the Philippines fallen victim to too much democracy?

That is one of the major questions posed by David Pilling, the Financial Times' Asia editor, in an editorial examining the ambiguous legacy of Cory Aquino and the outlook for the Philippines.

In east Asia, a region "with too few compelling examples of successful democracies", the Philippines adds grist to the mill of those who argue that democracy and individual liberties are not conducive to economic development, Pilling argues.

As he puts it, "those who seek to equate Asia’s strong growth record with authoritarian governments – conveniently forgetting the economic wreckage stemming from dictatorships in Burma, Cambodia and pre-Deng Xiaoping China – routinely offer the Philippines as an example of the alleged economic costs inherent to democracy".

Pilling's concludes that the dominance of patronage politics (or cacique democracy as it is also known) has undermined economic development and that, rather depressingly, there is little hope for change in the immediate future.

The Philippines is left with all the trappings of democracy – an argumentative press, free elections and regular transfers of power. Yet it has broken less decisively with the past than many other Asian countries. That has left it, rather like many Latin American countries that lurch from one caudillo to another, too reliant on what Raul Pangalangan, a law professor, calls “raw politics”. Today, in the eyes of a nation in mourning, the only thing that could truly redeem Philippine democracy would be another Cory Aquino. Yet, if truth be told, even she was not able to do that.

But it seems to me that any generalisation about the success of the Philippines will ultimately depend on how highly you value what Pilling calls "the trappings of democracy". Some would argue that an argumentative press, free elections and regular transfers of power are the essence of democracy, rather than mere "trappings".

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