Choosing a Vice President
Over the last couple of months, the favorite topic of discussion in newspapers, coffee shops, and social media, has been the issue of candidates and running mates. Should Mar Roxas be the candidate for president and Grace Poe be his running mate, or should it be the other way around? How about Binay, Duterte, Marcos, Trillanes, or Cayetano?
It's even been suggested that under the Philippine electoral system a presidential candidate doesn't really even need a running mate. How do we decide? What qualities should we consider?
So let's talk about this.
First, let's be very, very clear. The vice-president is a backup. He may have other duties and do other very important things, but his entire constitutional purpose is to take the place of the president if the president dies or becomes incapacitated. Not as a temporary fill-in, not as a substitute, but as the actual permanent successor, with all the powers and responsibilities that entails.
With that in mind, when we think about a candidate for vice-president, shouldn't we use the same criteria we use when considering a candidate for president?
In theory, having a "backup president" ready and waiting is a great idea. It provides for continuity of the democratically-elected government, even if the vice-president doesn't support the policies and programs of his unfortunate predecessor. It ensures that the country remains under the leadership of a person chosen by the people.
But in reality, the system has a weakness. That weakness is in the way we choose a vice-president.
As voters, we subject our presidential candidates to pretty close scrutiny. We look at their experience, their stand on important issues, and their plans for leading the country. Although the political parties themselves may choose their standard-bearers primarily on "winnability", voters are usually much more critical.
But we rarely apply the same criteria to our vice-presidential candidates. In most cases, presidential hopefuls choose their running mates based entirely on what they can bring to the campaign. What demographic or geographic sectors are they strong in, and how will that compliment the primary candidate's own campaign strengths? In other words, from the presidential candidate's perspective, a running mate's sole purpose is to help win the election.
This is true in American campaigns too. Yes, we give lip service to the running mate's qualifications and political positions in one or two vice-presidential debates, but serious discussion about those VP candidates rarely goes beyond what they bring to the ticket.
Sarah Palin was a great example. She was absolutely unqualified to be president; even her own party knew it. But she was very popular with a lot of voters.
Choosing her as running mate served only one purpose – to help John McCain win the election. Ironically, the very thing that worried many voters most was the fact that she could possibly become president.
Here in the Philippines, something similar happened. Whenever people talked about impeaching or otherwise removing President Arroyo from office (which happened quite often around that time), the big debate centered around who should replace her.
Even though Vice-President Noli de Castro was the automatic, constitutionally-mandated successor, people seemed to be uncomfortable with that.
De Castro was a well-known television personality and brought a lot of votes to the ticket, and I think he is a good man, but as a candidate for vice-president his sole qualification seems to have been his popularity. It seems that people only really considered his qualification to be president after it reached the point that he might actually become president. This is not a wise way to choose our leaders.
Now, in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election, we're faced with the same problem, and I'm starting to hear the same old arguments. In interviews, in tweets, and on social media, the pundits, power players, and kingmakers are talking about tickets and candidates. When they talk about who might be best for the top position, it's all about issues, experience, and abilities, as it should be.
But in the discussions about possible running mates, the talk is all about winnability. "So-and-so is very popular, and would make a great running mate. If Candidate A would choose so-and-so as a running mate, Candidate A would surely win".
We almost never hear anyone talk about whether a vice-presidential candidate is actually qualified to be president. In fact, more than once I've heard someone say, "This person doesn't have enough experience to be president, but he/she would make a great vice-president". That's a pretty ridiculous statement, when you think about it.
For all the presidential aspirants out there, I say this – Yes, it's true, you have to win the election before you can lead the country and solve all our problems. And yes, it's true, the right running mate can help you win.
But please remember, choosing a running mate should be about more than just finding someone who can bring in votes, or even someone who will continue your policies in the future. Choose your running mate as if that person might be the next president. Because he or she might just be.
And for the voters, please don't be swayed by popularity, sympathy, or any of the other tricks people might use to win your vote. We need a president who can take charge, lead the country, and fix the many problems facing us.
Experience is good, but I'd say that plain old-fashioned honesty, intelligence, and character are probably more important at this point. Think about that when you decide who to vote for as president.
And when you vote for vice-president, please consider the exact same qualities. Remember, from the moment he takes office, a vice-president could, in the blink of an eye, become president.
To help you decide, you might also want to try out my Smart voter's checklist . When the choice is difficult, a checklist can really help. - Rappler.com
Michael Brown is a retired member of the US Air Force, and has lived over 16 years in the Philippines. He writes on English, traffic management, law enforcement, and government. Follow him on Twitter at @M_i_c_h_a_e_l
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