Sunday, April 10, 2011

Presidential elections according to a gringa

After lots of build up and anticipation, today was the first round of presidential and congressional elections in Peru. Even Google Peru was prepared for the elections today and changed its homepage. As for myself, I've really enjoyed being able to witness the campaigning and election process in Peru from the very moment I set foot in Lima. I remember being surprised by the never-ending sea of giant billboards alongside the road and the discarded political propaganda on the streets when I first got here. Even the sierra (mountains) and selva (rainforest) regions of Peru were inundated with political advertisements. I was puzzled by the sight of rocks hand-painted with party slogans in what I thought was the middle of nowhere. Regrettably, I never got to attend a rally or a protest because it's illegal for foreigners to participate in them, even as a bystander.

Wall painted in favor of Keiko in the mountains of Tarma
There is no dearth of differences between the US and Peruvian electoral system. To begin with, to the dismay of nearly everyone, the sale and consumption of alcohol was prohibited beginning on Friday in order to prepare for the elections (it's called the la ley seca, or the dry law). A more relevant difference is the fact that voting is compulsory in Peru. Everyone between 18 and 70 is required to vote in their hometown. Those that don't vote must pay a fine around 350 soles (~$130). To avoid having to choose between the lesser of two evils, some voters invalidate their ballots by marking all of the candidates or making stray marks. However, most Peruvians I've talked with don't seem to mind the compulsory voting. Although Peruvians are famous for being indecisive before the elections, everyone I've talked to had an opinion about the candidates and was more or less informed about the elections.

Campaign HQ in Tarma that was
blasting Castaneda's theme song
when we walked by.
Another visible difference between the political environment is the weakness of party structure here. Instead, politics is driven by the strength of the caudillo (strong man) that leads a loose coalition of parties as their presidential candidate. Congressional candidates are labeled by what presidential candidate they support (which brings me to another difference- the national legislature is unicameral). However, it's not common for someone to vote for different "political parties" for President and congress, because again, the person is more important than the party. Caudillos spent a lot of time building their image, charisma, and persona. I enjoyed the fact that nearly every presidential candidate had his/her own theme song and mascot. PPK had PPKuy (cuy= guinea pig) and Keiko had a slightly terrifying star-person.

L to R: Castaneda, Toledo, Keiko, Ollanta, PPK
The five principle presidential candidates were, in general order of popularlity, Ollanta Humala of Gana PerĂº, Keiko Fujimori of Fuerza 2011, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) of Alianza por el Gran Cambio, Alejandro Toledo of PerĂº Posible, and Luis Castaneda of Solidaridad Nacional. (As a sign of the transitory nature of political parties, Keiko's party is called Force 2011- a name that clearly won't apply in the future). Although the results are not official yet, it's generally accepted that Ollanta and Keiko will go on to the second round. They are easily the two most polarizing candidates, and the general public is up in arms. Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa equated having to choose between them in the final round to "having to chose between AIDS and cancer."

Ollanta, by far the handsomest of
the candidates. (from AP)
Ollanta Humala will once again pass on to the second round (he was a finalist in last term's elections). Ollanta was the only viable left-wing candidate on the ballot, though he also represents a comparatively extreme left. His opponents liken him to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Nevertheless, he has maintained a consistent level of popularity, especially among the poor in the South and rural areas. Considering the fact that 40% of Peruvians live below the poverty line, his popularity as the candidate that "steals from the rich to give to the poor" is not surprising. I was more or less in favor of Ollanta until it was unsurfaced that he equated Peruvian Maoist terrorist group Sendero Luminoso to the Robbing Hood of the poor. Peru's history with Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) is still very touchy, as 70,000 Peruvians died at the hands of terrorist group and the government's equally inhuman response. And that brings me to Keiko.

Political cartoon of Keiko by renowned cartoonist Carlin.
Keiko Fujimori will also advance to the second round, though I haven't met anyone who actually supports her. She is the daugther of previous president/ dictator Alberto Fujimori who is currently incarcerated for a long list of human rights violations during his dictatorship and reckless fight against Sendero Luminoso. The political cartoon to the left references the extensive corruption of her father's regime, and implies that she doesn't fall far from the tree. Although she is an eloquent speaker and boasts degrees from NYU and Boston, her claim to fame (and infamy) comes more from her father's legacy than her own. Surprisingly, many Peruvians support Alberto Fujimori because he effectively eliminated Sendero Luminoso; although at the cost of human rights violations and the loss of innocent lives.

Aforementioned PPKuy
Coming in third place (surging ahead of former president Alejandro Toledo at the last minute) was Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK). PPK was easily the favored candidate among the urban elite and university students. He is an economic technocrat, having held executive positions in the World Bank and American bank. He also was the Economic Minister during his current presidential opponent Toledo's government. More controversially, he also has dual US-Peruvian citizenship, and his opponents have branded him as Mister Kuczynski or El Gringo. In the past, PPK has donated thousands of dollars to Republican candidates in the US, including former Pres. George Bush. That was the deal-breaker for me.

I'm glad that I didn't have to vote in the elections, because I don't know who I would vote for. I probably would have supported Toledo, the least polemic of the candidates. Or maybe I would have invalidated my ballot. Who knows. I'm glad I'll be able to vote for Obama next year.

Nevertheless, now Peru has to decide between Ollanta and Keiko- "AIDS and cancer." After the results of the first round of elections just a few hours ago, an atmosphere of fear and apprehension has begun to take over Lima (if not just the gazillion wall posts from my Peruvian friends on Facebook). Before the results of the elections, Peru was generally marked by an atmosphere of pride and optimism. The economy has been growing at impressing rates, and Peru has recently branded itself as a prime destination for eco- and gastro-tourism. I like to think that the Peruvian spirit is so strong that not even a bad president could change that. Viva Peru.

1 comment:

  1. They have to choose between a possibly radical socialist, a daughter of a dictator, and a banker.... those poor Peruvians. Guess its not very different from the U.S. though. :)