A Question of Representation in Democracy

Technocrats often do not know the daily constraints of ordinary people. It is time we looked at representation in a more inclusive light. True representativeness is the essence of democracy.

Some people think that Congress should be filled with the "the best and the brightest," a phrase that originated during the Kennedy Administration and therefore a modern phenomenon. Remember that in the 1950s and 1960s American politics, the elite was still regarded in high esteem by the American polity. 

But in classical Greece and throughout much of the history of democracy, this was not so: people chose based on representativeness, which meant ordinary citizens often occupied elected positions. Today, this is like ordinary people being called to jury duty in the U.S. Those picked to do this task do not complain that they don't know enough law to be judging a case. They sit there and analyze the facts as presented.

In the Philippines, technocracy began during the Marcos era when the best and the brightest helmed Cabinet posts. Soon technocracy also crept into the legislature, although it often clashed with the electorate's view that legislators be like them. That is the reason why candidates with sterling credentials sometimes stoop down to the level of what the hoi polloi wants.

We pendulate between the two schools of thought: the best and brightest/technocrat, or the “pang-masa” representative. Of course, there are pros and cons of leaning on one or the other, and this must be weighed carefully,

The problem with the best and brightest preference is the increasing connection between learned candidates and entrenched oligarchs. Here as well as in other countries, we have seen elective and appointive officials going through the revolving door of the corporate executive suite and government corridors of power and back again, and this bad practice persists despite laws and social norms against it.

Technocrats/elites may also be too remote from reality. They often do not know the real day-to-day constraints of ordinary people. For example, senators were seen riding the LRT/MRT when hearings were being held on transport issues. The best and brightest preference is not only elitist, but it is also deracinating from ordinary Filipino life.

It is time we looked at representation in a more inclusive light. True representativeness is the essence of democracy.

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About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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