MANILA, January 10, 2004 (STAR) ROSES AND THORNS By Alejandro R. Roces - We start the New Year with an election campaign.

With rare exceptions, almost all the front-page news in all leading newspapers, pertain to the coming elections. We donít recall any past elections that had such a surplus of candidates. The truth is that we have barely recovered from the aftermath of the last elections and now we are facing another one. Our biggest hope is that the coming elections be, first, peaceful and orderly, then, clean. The results should be based on the ballots, not bullets. In short, we count the returns, not the remains. You canít fool people all the time, but every election is good enough.

Many of the candidates running for president are not even national figures. If they ran unopposed, they would still lose, but they are running nevertheless. We are supposed to elect candidates for what they stand for. It is about time that we voted according to what we wonít stand for.

Political parties have become totally meaningless. There was a time when we had two parties Ė the Nacionalistas and the Liberals. Both had platforms for what they stood for. One couldnít shift from one party to another without changing his political program and conviction. Now, you can change from one party to another the way you change your shirt. The only meaning the elections have this year is that the candidates are all trying to save the people from all their opponents.

Even the Three Kings played a part in this election. A text message said, "This is the last time you will hear from us Ė A fourth King is coming and we donít want to be held responsible."

There is no enthusiasm for the elections except from the candidates. What the people would welcome to hear is what the political parties stand for and we donít mean motherhood statements. We are now the most backward nation in Asia, next only to Bangladesh. Our neighboring countries all have a program for progress. They are managed by statesmen. Their elections are conducted on a high level. Our election campaigns provide more entertainment than information. Worst, we confuse popularity with qualifications for office. We are fast becoming a nation run and managed by popular entertainers.

One hope we see is the proposal to change our system of government from the presidential to the parliamentary system. We believe that a prime minister would be more effective than a president and we are happy that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is paving the way for this change.

We really wish that all the energy that is going to this coming election could be transferred to a sound program of government. Instead, we get election promises!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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