Marker in hand and facing an elongated ballot sheet, we citizens elect our fellow citizens in accordance with the answers we have created for the question: "What will happen after the elections?"
Though I will not criticize the weight and validity of this question, I argue that we must ask this equally important question: "Why should we vote?"
"We should vote" as a positive and oft-pronounced answer cannot bear the weight of a question that necessitates further analysis.
Now, why ask the question?
First, we must recognize that while our votes give victory to candidates, it also helps sustain our political system in its entirety. We are not only electing individual candidates but we are also justifying the existence of our country’s political system. Votes give victory, voter turnout gives legitimacy to a political system. As members of the state (as tax payers at the very least), citizens have the capacity to determine its persistence, development, or demise.
Through the electoral process, a political system can derive its legitimate existence through quantitative means. Though this is not sufficient to ensure near absolute legitimacy (the ideal for legitimate authority), it is enough to allow a system to achieve a sense of internal cohesion (i.e., it will continue to function as a whole), and to justify its existence as a center of power in our society.
Simply put, we are voting for both individuals and for the continued existence of the political system. "Why vote" as a question directly leads to another question: "Can we allow the political system to continue?"
Thus, as citizen-voters we must recognize that our political system is based upon the capacity of the majority to sustain it – at least at the level of ideas and legitimacy – through the act of voting. Also, those who are vying for fundamental change must re-think their approach towards this legitimizing institution.
Second, this question opens up another path to other relevant and oft-asked questions. For example, if we ask the question"Who should we vote for?" in relation to "Why should we vote?" then we are necessitated to analyze and arrive at conclusions on how should the political system and the elected serve our interests.
We are forced by this combination to go beyond the promises and behavior of individual candidates and ask: "Are we voting for leaders, public servants, or servant-leaders?"
These more specific questions must be recognized and asked because they are reflective of our expectations from the political system itself that necessarily includes us and is sustained by our act of voting.
So we must first measure and be conscious about our expectations of victors and of ourselves after the elections.
To illustrate, if we are voting for leaders, then the tendency is for us to leave public affairs to the victors and return to and remain mostly within our private lives, occasionally reappearing in the public sphere through direct means like public acts of protest, or indirect ones such as through social media and everyday conversations on public affairs.
If we are voting for public servants then we must recognize the necessity of constant political participation. Public servants must act towards the public in a way similar to servants acting in accordance to orders coming from their masters.
Third, if we are voting for servant-leaders, then it’s indicative of our want for leaders who will work alongside us; that is, working with us and neither through, nor for us. To clarify, servant-leaders are those who aim for a balance between constant inputs from their constituents, and their own managerial capacity and strategic and long-term perspective.
Lastly, I note that by asking why we should vote, we take a path that leads to another question: "Is there an alternative to the current political system?"
I believe that it is a question that we need to ask regardless of our answers because it allows us to place a foot in the realm of the ideal while keeping the other one within the incumbent system. This question forces us to evaluate the performance, not only of individual candidates but of the system itself.
A political system, especially a democratizing one, could only justify its existence if it can effectively face the question of alternatives – ranging from the more radically democratic to authoritarian systems. For this reason, this issue is worth pondering upon in the context of the electoral process.
To conclude, I will not dare answer a question that we must answer ourselves as individuals and as members of our respective communities and sectors. I believe that none should impose an answer to anyone, and that the survival and development of our democracy depends on how we justify our answer to this question.
Moreover, it is time to recognize that our choice must not be tied solely to an analysis of individual or party platforms but to civic virtues that we believe must underlie and determine the behavior of all citizens in relation to our society. By asking the question "why vote," we turn our attention away from individual candidates and towards the system itself and to the principles underlying it. – Rappler.com
Anthony Lawrence Borja is currently a lecturer in the Political Science Department of De La Salle University