A friend of mine, who gave me a surprise visit yesterday morning, found me sitting in front of the television set and intently shifting channels between CNN's and BBC's coverage of the Australian general parliamentary elections. "Why watch that?", he asked, more than a bit bewildered. "Who cares who becomes prime minister down there?"
As a Filipino and until a week or so ago, I cared little for Australia's Liberal Prime Minister John Howard and his bitter rivalry with Kevin Rudd, leader of the Australian Labor Party. The politics of the land down under usually held little interest for me except from the merely academic point of view. Who here cares really whether Mr. Howard wins another term after serving 11 years as leader of his government?
The truth is my interest in the Australian general elections stems from two simple, prosaic reasons - a fascination and.....well......pure and simply envy at the vitality, dynamism and forthrightness of the democracy that the Australian people are so lucky to be living under.
For sure, no democratic system, be it Australian, American, British or whatever and wherever, perfectly approaches the democratic ideal. Even what is supposedly democratically ideal can be the subject of strong disagreement and contention.
But any political system and framework that fully empowers its citizens to freely choose their political leaders, and thus determine the course of their nation's future, on the basis of their personal competence, ideology and perceived stand on the relevant issues and concerns of the times, and holds them personally and collectively accountable to the electorate for their stewardship of the government they have been elected to serve, deserves to be envied.
For a real democracy to work best, each individual citizen must be of the firm conviction that his view and his say on the conduct of his government, whether expressed through the ballot in regular elections or through whatever legitimate means, makes a real difference and has value both individually and collectively. His opinion ultimately does count, thus he is empowered.
In Lianga, as in the rest of the Filipino nation, that is not exactly what the ordinary man in the street feels about his role in the politics of his town and his nation. He is weak, ignored, irrelevant and, most of the time, forgotten. Public accountability is just a slogan and elections a sham where money and power, not the people's genuine will, count the most.
If there is a lesson to be learned from watching the developments in the Australian general elections and the approaching presidential primaries in the U.S. 2008 presidential race, it is that great political changes in a nation occurs when such changes are backed by a groundswell of public opinion supporting such change. A people must not only see the changes they want as desirable but they must want them so bad that they will disregard their differences and work together to see them happen and become reality.
Otherwise, the alternative is the way of indifference and apathy. And when we, Filipinos in particular, no longer care or even take heed of the fragile state of the democracy we are supposed to be living under then we will surely lose it altogether and will be doomed, once again, to repeat the tragic mistakes of our recent and turbulent past.
"They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."
Andy Warhol, American artist and Pop Art icon(1928-1987)