Crossing Cultures: Take Your Pick

As will soon be taking place in the US, Peru is in the process of holding their presidential elections. We have learned quite a bit about how this is a different beast than the stateside system, and yet haven’t figured it all out. Nonetheless, welcome to the maze. 

Voting in Peru is mandatory. They have a national identity card that is necessary for all walks of life, from birth on. It would be a cross between our social security card and a driver’s license. They must show it to enroll in school, receive medical care, even pay a bill or make a bank transaction. Whenever there is an elec- tion, all who vote receive a sticker or other indication on their DNI (the card) that shows they fulfilled their obligation. If they fail to receive the sticker, they will be denied services at banks and many other businesses. Thus, they must pay a large fine (around S./200, which is about $75...a large sum for the typical Peruvian) to purchase the sticker to be allowed to function normally again. They are also assigned a voting location based on their most re- cent registry of their DNI. This might mean they have to cross town to wait in a long line, but some must travel to another city, if they haven’t updated their permanent address. 

The election itself takes place on a Sunday, and the government forbids any kind of gathering to take place during the assigned hours. Also forbidden is the sale of alcoholic beverages that day or the day prior. The scheduled starting time is at about 10:00 a.m., and the voting stations are manned by “table members”, which means party members who have been randomly selected to run said stations. Each candidate is represented at each station. However, if the assigned table members fail to arrive on time, the first voters in line are automatically required to fill in and stay the day. Naturally, this means that very few people are in a hurry to arrive early! 

The ballots are a pretty standard sheet of paper on which the vot- er indicates with an X in a box which candidate is their preferred. An interesting twist is the precision with which one must make the X. It must be straight lines from corner to corner, remaining within the bounds of the square. The candidate representatives review all ballots together, arguing over whether an X counts or not, in an effort to throw out ballots that contain votes for the other candidates. Those who know they must vote and do not wish to have their vote counted for any of the available candidates will often choose to receive their credit for voting, but void their ballot by obviously making a sloppy X. 

As for the candidates themselves, they run the gamut. In this last election, there were several candidates, many of whom were so little-known, I wouldn’t even know to count them. However, of the more popular names making the rounds, I count 5 or 6. One is a former military man with accusations of dictatorial aspira- tions. Another is the daughter of a previous president from Japan, remembered by many for how he cheated the government out of millions of dollars before fleeing the country but by many others for how well he managed the infrastructure for the typical family. Another is “the gringo”, a man with Peruvian and American citi- zenship, who advertised with guinea pigs, and might be required to relinquish his American citizenship, if it gets to a certain point. Yet another was the president before the current one, since Peru doesn’t allow consecutive terms, who wanted another round. 

On April 10th, Peru held the first round of presidential elections. The law requires that a new president be voted in with at least 51% of the national vote. Since this is impossible with numer- ous candidates, they hold a first round to eliminate the majority, then hold a runoff in June for the final count. Right now, the top two are both highly controversial - the militaristic Ollanta and in- experienced daughter-of-criminal-ex-president Keiko. The other candidates are deciding whom they will support and encouraging their followers to support them as well. Tensions are high as Peruvians try to predict the future in the hands of one of these two candidates for the next 5 years. Opinions flow freely, and most are strong. Some are talking about invalidating their votes just to avoid having to choose. It should be interesting.