Strategic Planning and Political Parties
Paper presented by Dr. Ronald Meinardus* at the workshop
on strategic planning for liberal leaders, Century Park Sheraton,
Manila, 17 January 2003
While the concepts regarding strategic planning are more or less universal
and related manuals in the Philippines and Europe or America contain
similar guidance, political parties are very different here compared
to where I come from. In a nutshell, parties here tend to be
comparatively weak, they tend to lack financial resources, their organizational
structures tend to be feeble, their ideological cohesion is not very
pronounced and often they lack political continuity. This, as we will
see, has serious implications for the planning process.
Let me add some more basic observations: Strategic planning is
actually a rather antique idea. For centuries, it has been applied
whenever large groupings of individuals had to be lead or guided.
This was mainly the case in the military sphere. In classical Greek,
“stratigeia” means leading of an army.
A modern definition of strategy transcends the military. Today,
to give you a definition which I find useful in our context, strategy
may be defined as “a collective decision of the members of an organization
about what they want the organization to be and to do, along which
action they must take to make those wants a reality”.
I like this definition as it emphasizes the collective nature
of the strategic planning process. I commend the leadership
of the Liberal Party for including so many office holders in the
strategic discussion. On the other hand, we know from experience
that eventually the detail work – and the all important follow-up
- will have to be delegated to working groups and a much smaller
group of individuals.
Strategic planning is a formalized intellectual process that consists
of several stages. In the initial phase, the planners always discuss
their objectives, beginning with the very fundamental issue of what
is the purpose of the entire exercise. Here, the organizers
have formulated four points:
The strategic planning session seeks to provide liberal leaders:
scan of the environment
common understanding of their current position
and threats to the Party
strategic focus for the 2004 General Election
Of course, the strategic planning process in a political party
– and this is specifically the case with the LP with its long (and
at times glorious) tradition – does not start from nil. This party
has existed long before the planning beginns, it already has goals
and objectives, functions, members and structures.
The basic and fundamental strategic objective for a liberal party
– and allow me to be general at this point – is always identical:
it is the promotion of liberal politics in the respective country.
To achieve this, political power is needed. The more political power
the liberal party controls, the greater the chances for liberal
positions to be put into political practice.
In parenthesis I have to add one aspect that complicates the strategic
discussions in many liberal parties: What are liberal principles?
Unfortunately, liberals often do not speak with one tongue on important
issues. Therefore, reaching consensus in important issues is not
only a political challenge but also an aim, yes an imperative, of
the planning exercise.
This consensus on basic political issues is the precondition to
move to the second step: The promotion of the liberal agenda in
the political arena. While the first step pertains to the decision-making
process inside the party, the second phase pertains to the environment
– the political system in a wider sense.
An important element of strategic planning is the evaluation of
the environment – the internal as well as the external environments.
Looking at the program, I recognize a very thorough evaluation of
the external environment will take place today; I assume the critical
analysis of the internal environment of the party will follow during
the discussion of the weak and strong points – the opportunities
and the threats (SWOT).
As to the external environment, there could hardly be more volatility
than today. The dynamism of the political situation poses special
challenges for the planners, as many political developments have
major implications for the party’s strategy. In my eyes, the
myriad uncertainties make it impossible to come up with a reasonable
strategic concept at this given time. Importantly, the uncertainties
pertain to the micro-level as well as the macro-level of Philippine
On the micro-level the choice of the presidential candidate is
the main issue, after the president has announced she would not
run again. In offering “unconditional support” to GMA, the party
had taken a clear strategic decision last year. Today, I see mainly
two questions of strategic importance: First, who will the party
support and second, when will it make its choice pubic?
Another uncertainty on the micro-level pertains to the opposition
– and with it indirectly also the composition of the government.
Will today’s opposition be part of tomorrow’s government, and when
yes, who will be the opposition? This is important, as you have
to know who are your opponents and who are your allies.
Even more challenging for the planners I find the uncertainties
on the political macro-level: Today, it is totally unclear who and
what the people will vote for in May 2004. There have even been
media speculations that the elections may be postponed. A very crucial
debate centres on the change of the constitution. For an interested
(and well-meaning) foreign observer, also in this point, there are
many more open questions than answers. These do not only pertain
to the substance of the issue, whether the governmental system will
be changed from a presidential to a parliamentary one. Also the
procedural issue, of how (and when) to realize Cha-Cha is highly
controversial – and of extremely high relevance for the strategic
planning of any political party at this given time. A final
point I wish to highlight is the absentee voting bill: the implications
of millions of Overseas Workers participating in the elections for
the first time can hardly be overemphasized. To this moment, I have
seen little systematic preparation on the side of any political
party for this eventuality.
In short, in light of the many political uncertainties I deem
it impossible to arrive at a conclusive strategy for 2004 at this
given time. Nevertheless, I find this meeting timely and useful,
as it may help the party achieve consensus regarding many pending
issues, some of which I have just mentioned.
If the aim is – as stated before – to arrive at a common understanding
of the party’s current position, then one priority would be to define
an LP position regarding Charter Change. A second priority could
be to come to a common understanding regarding the presidential
candidate. One conceivable solution could be that the LP decides
not to support anyone for the time being and adjourns the decision.
A third priority of the strategic planning session could be to discuss
ways and means of strengthening the party organization. I personally
believe this is one of the most crucial – and least controversial
– aspects. Everyone agrees that the members and supporters of the
party must be mobilized in time – well ahead of the final stages
of the electoral campaign. A fourth priority I wish to highlight
is that today’s exercise should not remain a singular event, but
that a follow-up should take place. Equally important, a mechanism
to monitor the implementation of the strategic decisions should
be put in place. My fifth – and last – suggestion, if I may
call it that – is related to the monitoring and implementation issue:
all sides should agree that the strategic recommendations will be
adhered to by the party members. This point is related to party
discipline and is probably the most problematic aspect of the overall
But please consider: The best of all strategies is worthless as
long as it is not taken seriously by the party stakeholders. I do
not have to look at other parties to make this remark, but can refer
to my own party, the Free Democratic Party of Germany (FDP). We
often pride ourselves of having the best and most professional strategic
planning process. But in the end, we often do badly in the elections,
because in the heat of the campaign some politicians don’t respect
the strategic directives.
This is a problem in Germany, where – as you all might know –
political parties are relatively strong. I would assume that the
challenge of adhering to strategic directives of the party is
even greater in a democracy like the Philippines, where political
parties arguably play a much smaller role than where I come from.
*Dr. Ronald Meinardus is the former resident representative
of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation Philippines