Electioneering

Galang specializes in good governance. This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, April 16, 2007  edition, page S1/4.

During the recent Holy Week we had time aplenty to reflect on the nature of this Republic’s current preoccupation, elections. This is my report.

A citizen of the Late Roman Republic observing today’s electoral exercises would take only little effort in figuring out and relating to what he sees, despite the distance in time of more than 2,000 years.  The marks of modern time will astonish him to no end, but he will find unbelievably familiar the way modern politicians go about winning votes and gaining power.

It’s like an old theme in modern garb, or Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar played in modern dress and props. Of course, the real story is better.

Julius Caesar, hailed as the greatest Roman of all time, rose to power conventionally by getting himself elected into one public office and then into the next in a hierarchy of offices, as the Roman rules provided.

Like in today’s elections, the candidate was presumed to be rich or richly connected, or preferably both. A good amount of wealth was needed for patronage—to build a network of clients in high and right places—and to project an image, bribe the electorate, or, in even more familiar terms, raise an army of private bodyguards. In modern times, providing for radio and TV time and print space will up the stake further, on top of the funds for guns.

His noble and patrician clan notwithstanding, the power climb had left young Caesar in near penury. By some ancient account, he was already in debt by the equivalent of about a million and a half US dollars even before he had held his first public post.

Elections hold a promise for everyone, save the poor and the tightwads. Electioneering, however, is an investment, with payback time that comes only to those who win.

In a manner no Filipino will be shocked to know, Caesar used the means of his office to further and raise funds for his political career. As curule aedile (chief of city police, public games, and building administration, rolled into one) for 65 B.C., he took over a post that was not a requisite step to the next higher one, but nevertheless promised a good position from which to step into the heart of the Roman populus, specially the plebs.

And so it was that during his tenure the masses were lavished with public shows extravagantly funded from the official coffers and, as this was not enough, out of his creditor’s pocket as well. Gladiators were brought in by the thousands for public exhibition, with their number so unusual that it alarmed the Senators and moved them into cutting it down to secured size—640 gladiators in all, dressed in full silver armor.

The Romans cheered and Caesar, was hailed and remembered. The Roman circus has a modern equivalent in show business. Movies made the masses cheer, and Erap was remembered. But real life unfolds not necessarily by the book of history – and so, unlike aesar, Erap was just as easily dumped and forgotten. Meanwhile, it is also true that modern elections found an equivalent in circuses, with bread to boot.

It was, however, in commanding soldiers in real war, not public shows, that Caesar earned more favors from the Romans and raised the money to pay his debts. He thus pioneered the theory, but failed to write it down, that corruption and quality public service are not mutually exclusive.

As governor of the conquered province of Farther Spain in 61 B.C., Caesar distinguished himself militarily by engaging hostile tribes and emerging victorious, thereby earning for himself and his men the spoils of war.  He returned to Rome famous, rich with his loot,
all ready for the Consulship, which he won just a year later.

In between wars, today’s aspiring commander may choose he other proven way of staging coups or similar adventures before gunning for the presidency or a seat in the Senate. No valor no vainglory.

Next to valor, the best asset to own and harness is the voice. In Late Roman times, the novus homo, he who was without a noble lineage to count on, could capture a coveted post on the strength of eloquent oratory. But back then, the orator was on his own, face to face with his audience, using any of the only two means available by which to convey his ideas, private conversation or public address. To be eloquent then necessarily meant to be intelligent as well.

Such was the case of Marcus Cicero, who rose through the Roman magistrates to become Consul, four years before Caesar assumed the post.

In our age of global networks, a good voice alone, provided a smart teleprompter is within reading range, can propel the career of even the bobos homo. Thus, he who has little but that voice to count on, can be propelled direct into the public office of choice, including the Presidency.

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