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Politicians Must Keep their Promises

Updated on February 28, 2014

Endorse a politician who endorses your program

Politicians make promises during their campaign for an elective office. They use these promises to entice voters to vote for them. When elected they turn their backs on these promises. Voters who elected for such politicians want them to keep their promises. The device available to voters is the vote that they can withdraw from a politician who breaks his promises and runs for reelection. This is how I understand the question.

This question is a lament on broken promises. This usually happens in western democracies like the United States. It also happens in some Asian democracies like the Philippines. The vote is still the institution but there can be devices other than the vote in the coming election. We now have recall election. Under the 1987 constitution of the Philippines, there had been two cases of recall election.

A recall election can be instigated within the term of office, like three years for a mayor. Recall election covers mayors, governors, member of the board (provincial), congressmen, and senators. Removal from office of the vice-president and president is by cause (violation of a law) or by impeachment. They could opt for resignation.

In the United States a vice president was guilty of tax evasion; Nelson Rockefeller was appointed to replace him. A president, guilty in the Watergate scandal, resigned rather than go through an impeachment trial. The incoming appointive president, Gerard Ford, pardoned Nixon immediately. That was a rare occasion when a president and vice-president were both appointive. A U.S. president was impeached by the House of Representatives but was acquitted by the Senate. The president's malevolence, liaison with a woman (The Starr Report), was not impeachable. It looks like the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton were meant more to discredit him and his party than to remove him from office.

Recall election

Some citizens may sign a petition for a recall election against an official, say, mayor who is perceived to have a mediocre performance or who is immoral. If the number of petitioners reaches 10% of the total voters in the municipality, recall election can proceed. The incumbent mayor, who is the object of recall election, can run for election. Other candidates may also run, usually the one who initiated the signing of the petition for recall election. In the two recall elections held so far in the Philippines, one incumbent-reelectionist lost, while the other won. There was a signing of petition of a recall election against the governor of Pampanga province but it did not prosper. It looks like the objective of recall election foisted by the leaders of the petition could not gather enough signatures.

In the United States, the state of Dakota has scored the highest number of recall elections.

A promise is not a law

There is a flaw in the present system of "a politician making a promise to get himself elected then renege on this promise once in office." In the first place, breaking the promise is not an impeachable act. A promise is not a law. The controls over a politician to keep his promises appear to be: one, losing votes for his reelection if he has plans for it. This works for the president of the United States for only one term because he can only run for one reelection. An American can only have two terms as president now. (President Franklin D. Roosevelt was reelected three times, meaning he was elected to four terms as president. He did not complete his fourth term because he died of stroke in April 1945.) Another control for the president who is not a reelectionist or who is already disqualified as reelectionist because of the two-term limit is: he ought to avoid discrediting his party to the electorate.The pressure comes from the constituents of his party, not necessarily from the people of the whole country. As president, and virtually leader of his party, if not in fact the leader, he has to ensure the election of the candidates of his/her party.

Lyndon Johnson did not run for reelection because, as he said, he could not be president if he could not sit in a negotiation table and say what he wanted to say. In a way, he was saying the president of the United States is sometimes gagged. Put another way, the president officially stands for policies that he personally does not approve of or understand.

President Richard Nixon did not seem to understand why the United States should go for a rapprochement with China of Mao Tse-Tung. Nixon was an anti-communist. In fact, as prosecution lawyer he sent to prison prominent Americans as communist spies, like Alger Hiss. That made him famous, a watershed for his candidacy as vice-president, then president. After the signing of the rapprochement treaty in Beijing with Mao in 1973, the first time a U.S. president sat foot on China, there was some sort of celebration in the White House. But Nixon appeared unenthusiastic about being the architect of the rapprochement, Henry Kissinger said so in his first memoir as presidential assistant for national security. Kissinger brokered the treaty; he was a former staff of Nelson Rockefeller. As national security adviser, he bypassed the Secretary of State in negotiations with other nations, running the back channel.

[Hiss was imprisoned for six years. Upon his release he worked hard to clear his name. Lucky for him the USSR crumbled. "In 1992 Hiss wrote to the Russian historian Dimitry Antonovich Volkogonov, the overseer of the Soviet intelligence archives, to request the release of any files on the case. On 14th October 1992, Volkogonov published a report that stated that he had found no evidence that Hiss had ever been an agent for KGB, for the GRU or for any other intelligence agency of the Soviet Union" (Internet August 20.2012). Had it not been for the break up of USSR, Hiss would not be exonerated,]

Too short for a good president

In the Philippines, a Filipino can have only one term as president, six years. This is a reaction to the dictatorship of Marcos of two decades. This limit is good for a bad president. However, the people are the losers if s/he is a good president.

The Philippines has seen the impeachment of one president, Joseph Estrada, by the Lower House of Philippine congress. His trial by the Philippine Senate was aborted. He was ousted by a coup instead. A lawsuit of plunder was filed against him for which he was convicted to imprisonment for life. However, he was pardoned by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the previous president. The pardon appears to be a high stakes strategy to boost the chances of Gloria's candidate for the presidency. Estrada was set loose upon the opposition vote to break it up. There were 7 candidates in the opposition: Benigno C. Aquino, III, Joseph Estrada, Manuel Villar, Richard Gordon, Nicanor Perlas, Jamby Madrigal, and another male candidate. The thinking was that these opposition candidates would take a piece of the opposition vote such that not one of them would emerge winner for the presidency. The opposition was broken up alright but one of them got more votes than her candidate who landed fourth in the presidential race. Aquino garnered the most votes; he is now the incumbent president.

Interest groups

The present system in western style democracies is that a political party puts up candidates. The party, or the person who controls the party, has its or his/her own agenda. That agenda is not necessarily for the good of the people. However, the party or the candidate is wily enough to make promises to entice voters. When in office s/he proceeds to attain his/her agenda or that of his/her party. This way the electorate does not have a firm control over the candidate in terms of qualifications, capability, morality, and integrity. The party has a firmer control than that of the electorate. However, the agenda of the party may not be for the good of the people either.

The United States is known for its president-makers, like a pineapple fruit tycoon. Woodrow Wilson was a former university professor who wrote books on politics. Some groups saw his potential as president. He was nurtured by Col. Edward House, also a banker. Col. House led the US delegation in the negotiation table on the terms of surrender of Germany in World War I. Col. House arrived in Paris, France ahead of President Wilson; House was paraded in the streets. A tiff between President Wilson and Col. House became obvious during the conference that hammered out the Treaty of Versailles. (It was considered too harsh for Germany that Hitler used it to rouse the Germans that led to WWII).

To make politicians keep their promises, the electorate must endorse the politician. Better yet they should select and sponsor their own candidate. They should know him/her in terms of qualifications, capabilities, morality and integrity. They should formulate the agenda for which the politician stand. In a way, this is bypassing the traditional party system. This system requires more awareness and politicization on the part of the electorate. .


Submit a Comment

  • conradofontanilla profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Philippines


    Thanks for the compliment. The voters have the power but that power is fragmented. The candidates and the party are well organized such that they take control over the voters. That is a redefinition of democracy.

  • profile image

    Howard Schneider 

    6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

    Excellent Hub and analysis, Conradofontanilla. Too many citizens simply select a candidate on the final day by what they hear in televison advertisements. They do not study up on the candidates views on issues and are therfore easily fooled. I believe it is every citizen's civic duty to study and be involved. If we don't, the result will be corrupt leaders.


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