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The circus of an election campaign

March 13, 2007

We feel it, we hear it, we see it, we notice its smell, and even taste its aroma as it happens.  The “it” here refers to the one-thousand-and-one bags of tricks by which candidates aspiring for public office employ to gain attention, court sympathy, and win votes from us, the not-so-amused voters.

They kissed babies, hugged the not so huggable among the crowd, dared going to places they never went before like wet markets, there shaking hands – sweating, foul-smelling, hard hands -- of the most common and ordinary mortals.  They endured pungent odor as they toured eyesore places, rode public buses and, yes, they sang and danced to the delight of an adoring mob, wearing their best smiles even under pressure and fatigue.

These ways to win votes added a special “fiesta” atmosphere to an election season filled with excitement and awe  --  much like the gimmicks of clowns, barkers, and magicians in a carnival.  It is in this sense that the election campaign of the Philippines was, and is, often likened to a circus.

So, welcome and brace yourself to the election campaign circus, folks.

There is, however, a world of difference in such a lopsided comparison, lest any voter is tempted to accept it as, well, a plain charade, then just sit back and relax.  For one, politics is no spectator’s sport, where the audience simply watch and cheer as they like, especially when their favorite player or team makes a score.

Also, at the very least, the voters as audience do not need to be entertained, though we admit political rallies are filled with lots of entertainment numbers.  The voting public needs to be enlightened on crucial issues that matter in their everyday lives as sovereign citizens of this Republic.  They need to be informed of the platforms of government, a kind of activity that requires critical thinking so the people can understand, appreciate  --  and vote.

Of course, many voters would not care less, indifferent to the nuances of serious talk, lip-service debates, but such attitude should not prevent Mr./Mrs./Miss Candidate to engage the general public in substantive, intellectual discussions, with emphasis on how he/she intends to use brains and brawn once trusted to be in power.

Surely, if performers in a carnival show use their creative minds doing superb stunts, candidates-elect sooner than later must outperform their “peryahan” counterparts in translating campaign stunts into real-life performance, unselfish public service, and fulfill people’s expectations of a better life for them.

The voters are actively involved in the political exercise, not just passive bystanders, by way of casting their sacred votes written in confidential ballots on election day.

Prior to that, during the campaign period, they may just be part of a large crowd, or the whole crowd itself, pandered by politicians’ direct addresses as “Haring Lungsod”.   Some may just be unconcerned onlookers in a field highly charged with propaganda, promises, pledges, and visions of a desired life in a future painted with much hope.  The downside in the raging drama of a hectic sortie here and there may include intrigues, mud-throwing, and brickbats strewn around, including the toilet bowl and the kitchen sink.   The wise voter may have a hard time distinguishing the chaff from the grain, but many others may just enjoy the great show.

But then again, all factors being equal, it is safe to assume that at one point or another, voters are thinking  --  based on their perception, standards, willing convictions resulting from the campaign  --  on who among the many aspirants are deserving of their faith and trust.  This thinking process is no laughing matter, the thoughts derived not funny.

So, as the election campaign gets heated by the minute, we, the voters, continue to savor our physical senses with the brand of partisan politics we are used to, since day one up to the last day of the campaigning period.  Oh, it was such a comic relief to break the monotony on the humdrums of our daily routine.  Still, voters be warned.  You and me and everybody else who care to heed this warning should not be carried by the boisterous campaign’s disarming charm, showbiz aura, the charisma of celebrities, to the lowest level of treating it all like any common, lively circus.

For such kind of circus is no joke.  Worse, we may wake up one day to learn that the joke is on us.

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