As a Peace Corps Volunteer, we are not allowed to become involved in local politics of the countries in which we work. However, in the interest of sharing Peruvian culture with my readers, I have decided to share a bit about how the Peruvian election system works. Please remember that the contents of this blog are my own, and are not representative of the opinions of Peace Corps nor the U.S. government. Anyways, in an as un-biased manner as possible, I present a summary of the Peruvian Presidential election system.
While most of my U.S. readers have probably been preoccupied with all of the election action going on right now in the U.S., what you might not have known is that for the past year or so, Perú has been in the midst of their own Presidential election cycle. Now, Peruvian Presidential elections differ from U.S. Presidential elections in several ways, and I will do my best to highlight these differences in the following post.
Political Parties & Candidates
In the U.S. we have two principal political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, each of which goes through a long voting process to elect the candidate to represent them. Essentially, each party presents several Presidential candidates, and through a series of mostly popular votes by State (primaries), each party narrows down to one candidate who will be the party’s primary candidate for the President election in November. Currently, the Republican Party will be represented by Donald Trump in the Presidential race, while the Democratic Party will be represented by either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
In Perú, there are not two dominant political parties, and in fact congress consists of many different parties, each of which’s strength and power seem to vary from election to election. Consequently, Peru does not employ primaries, and each political party just proposes their own candidate. Consequently, at the start of campaigns in 2015, there were about 16 different Presidential candidates, and throughout time this array was narrowed down to only a handful as some dropped out of the race, or some were removed for unethical campaigning strategies. Apparently in the past, it was perfectly legal to garner votes by handing out money or other items like cars, but for this election cycle, this was changed, but many candidates had trouble dropping old habits.
In the U.S., generally each candidate launches a big marketing campaign during the primaries, when they have a logo, slogan, and employ press events, speeches, and public debates to present their ideas to the public, and garner favor among voters. Generally everything is quite standard, with candidates both putting out media to spotlight themselves as well as media to denigrate other candidates. Although, from what I gather, it seems that some of the U.S. Presidential candidates have been using some unconventional campaign strategies.
Here in Perú, the campaigning process is quite similar, although there are some noted differences. Like in the U.S., Presidential candidates usually create a logo, but this logo is not just for identifying the candidate, but also integral for the actual voting process. You see, when election day comes around, rather than just voting by name, each candidate’s name is presented along with the candidates symbol, and in order to cast a vote, you cross off the symbol of the candidate you wish to support. Consequently, a LOT is done to spread the symbols across all of Perú, whether it be driving around with the symbol on your car, or painting the side of your house with your candidate’s logo. But in addition to logos, candidates do realize public debates from time to time, travel to different sites in Perú to make speeches, and some even have catchy songs to spread their name far and wide. However, there are some unique strategies employed by candidates, such as holding free public concerts with famous Peruvian celebrities, as one Peruvian candidate did in preparation for the first round of elections. Could you imagine a U.S. candidate holding a concert/political rally with, say, Kanye West, to garner votes? While it might sound strange to us from the U.S., or at least it is strange for me, it is perfectly acceptable here in Perú.
Length of Office
In the U.S., the length of the Presidential Term of Office is 4 years, with the option for immediate re-election, and so in total, a person can serve as President for a 8 years maximum.
In Perú, the length of the Presidential Term of Office is 5 years, without the option of immediate re-election. If a former President wishes to be re-elected, he must wait 5 years before he can run again, however, there is NO cap on the number of times a person can be President. And so, a person could potentially be president for 15 or more non-consecutive years, as long as they took time off between terms. In fact, one of the early candidates from this past election cycle had already served 2 terms in office.
In the U.S., all United States citizens are allowed to vote in the Presidential election, but they are not obligated. The first round of voting is realized via primaries done State by State as I mentioned earlier with the purpose of deciding which candidate will represent each political party in the Presidential Election. Voting day for the Presidential election takes place in November, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the month; this year, it will be November 8th, 2016. On this voting day, and this voting day alone, the new President of the United States will be decided.
In Perú, all Peruvian citizens are allowed to vote in the Presidential election, but they ARE obligated to vote. If a Peruvian fails to vote in the election, he or she is fined, and until the fine is paid, they may have trouble processing certain government documents or using certain services like the bank. Now, as I mentioned earlier, there are no primaries in Perú because each of the different political parties just select their own candidate, or, a candidate just creates his or her own political party for the purposes of the election. However, rather than having a one-and-done voting system like in the U.S., here in Perú, there are two rounds of Presidential votes. During the first vote, which took place on April 10th, 2016, the two candidates who garner the most votes, pass onto the second round of elections, while for the rest, their election hopes end. However, if a candidate manages to win >50% of the vote during the first round of elections, then he or she becomes the President, and no second round of voting is needed. Based on the vote in April, 3 candidates surged to the top of the polls: Keiko Fujimori (39.85%), Pablo Kuczinski (21.01%), Veronika Mendoza (18.78%). Keiko Fujimori and Pablo Kuczinski, having been the frontrunner of the popular vote in the first round of elections, both passed onto the second round of elections which took place yesterday, on Sunday, June 5th. Yesterday, Peruvians across the country returned to their registered voting locations, which for many is the town of their birth, and cast their votes for either Fujimori or Kuczinski, and we are now awaiting the results to see who will become the next President of Perú.
Now, there is one more important thing you should know about Peruvian elections before I conclude this post, and that is the Ley Seca (the Dry Law).
Here in Perú, ALL sale of alcohol is banned on the day before and the day of elections. So that means from 12:00am on the Saturday before election days, to 12:00am on Sunday night of elections, all businesses are NOT allowed to serve or sell alcohol under penalty of fines and other consequences. Now, why does this law exist? Because the Peruvian government wants to ensure that the citizens voting in the election are doing so in a sober, clear-minded state. While it might be a bit radical, I think the Ley Seca is a good idea.
While I personally think some aspects of how elections operate in Perú are quite strange, there are many aspects that I think are quite novel and should be considered for implementation in the U.S. For example, in Perú, voting takes place on Sundays, meaning that people have the time to go and vote because there are no other obligations such as work. I still do not understand why if Election Day in the U.S. is on a Tuesday, we have not made it a national holiday; shouldn’t we be doing everything in our power to ensure people who want to vote are able to vote? But I digress…
So, now you have it, probably more than you ever wanted to know about how Presidential Elections operate here in Perú. If you have any questions about the political scene, leave me a comment below.
In the meantime, check out this document that Peace Corps Perú made for Volunteers about the Presidential Elections to get some further information on some topics I didn’t touch on in this post.
Until next time,