I am writing to you from my room, where I have been trapped all weekend waiting out the elections. (Don’t worry I have plenty of Scandal episodes to catch up on and I have mastered the Star Spangled Banner on guitar!) With all of this free time I thought I would fill ya’ll in on the craziness that is local government election time in Peru.
-Elections for local alcalde are held every four years on the 5th of October
-Terms are four years long (obviously)
-Voting is mandatory for adults ages 18-70 and if you don’t vote there is a hefty fine
-You must return to your district of birth to vote
(For example, my dad lives here in the Provincial Capitol of Santa Cruz but he is from a district called Sausapampa. He must return there to vote for the Mayor of Sausapampa and the Provincial Mayor of Santa Cruz.)
-Ballots are paper and are counted by hand by people elected “trustworthy”
-In Santa Cruz there were 7 candidates from 7 different parties
As a Peace Corps Volunteer our stance on politics is a strict “no comment” tactic. We are advised to stay out of political conversations and prohibited from attending campaign activities or showing support for one candidate. In general this is pretty easy, it just means heading home a little early at night and refusing free stuff as we walk through the streets. At the end of the day it doesn’t really make a difference to my work who the mayor is, because everyone here is open to working with Peace Corps.
-Painting houses is the most common strategy I have seen in Santa Cruz. Political parties pay around S/. 300-400 if you let them paint the entire outside of your house with their propaganda!
-Nightly parades with loud music, free beer, and dancing through the streets… yes this happened every night.
-Free entrances to the bullfight and other town fiesta events.
-Throwing free stuff into the crowd during the bullfights. For example, releasing colored balloons, free plastic (rain protection), caramels, matches, hats, shirts.
-Radio interviews, radio interviews, radio interviews… did I mention radio interviews?
-Random firework shows at random hours on random days.
Basically the only thing not allowed is material or statements bashing other candidates. (Go Peru!!) In fact this past weekend they put two guys in jail because they were going around the market slipping bad propaganda under fruit crates.
So why am I stuck in my room? Peace Corps strongly suggested we stay out of the public eye until we determine what the sentiment is towards the new mayor and let any hard feelings blow over. The day after the election I am now understanding this warning… last night a grown man cried and got belligerently drunk in public because he didn’t win. This morning I found out that in a district about an hour away they were all but pleased with the outcome of the election. They burned down the mayor’s house last night and the new mayor is on the run because they are trying to kill him. I was so confused by this, because they voted the guy into office! Apparently the majority of the townspeople voted for someone else, but the surrounding campo areas outnumbered them and a different candidate won.
All in all everything is calming down and the man who is currently the alcalde won his reelection, so things will remain the same here. It was an interesting cultural experience to be able to observe the differences in politics between the US and Peru. Now it will be nice to actually find people in their offices instead of on the campaign trail as our projects start picking up! Sending lots of love from Peru.
P.S. Don’t forget to vote in the midterm elections in the U.S. If I can send in my ballot from Peru, you can take an hour or two to go vote!