About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to be in the county’s capital city for the recent elections. They weren’t for the big job, the president, but for all of the governors and regional representatives around the country. Without getting into the nitty gritty, there were a few very interesting things I learned while being in the country during this period.
1. Everybody seems to get involved.
And by everybody, I mean mostly the elderly representatives of the country. They are out, they have their signs, they are protesting until they are hoarse. Many of them have their houses painted with political propaganda to show their support for their candidates. Candidates also paint any free standing structure they can get their paintbrushes on including cliff faces, gutters, bridges, you name it. The thing is, these people remember a time when things were much worse than they are now, so they are heavily on it with protests and campaigns.
2. To vote you have to be in the jurisdiction of where you vote.
Unlike with other countries, if you’re registered in Cusco and currently in Lima for work, you cannot vote. To vote, you have to be in the actual region where you are registered and go into a specific office that they allocate you for voting. That means on voting weekend, transport and booking buses is a nightmare because if you don’t vote, you get fined. It is compulsory.
3. There are political parties, and then there are political parties.
You will see many symbols down the road for different political parties that people are representing in Peru, such as the Maicitos, Somos Peru etc. but of more interest to me as a foreignor were the actual parties. In the lead up to elections in an attempt to convince you of their awesomeness, candidates will have street parties. One blocked off our road in the middle of a tour to Chavin as they were handing out free chicken, rice and potatoes off the back of the truck to all who came and sat in the square to listen to the propaganda. This is mild campaigning. Some take it to a whole new level.
Back in Huaraz, an entire hostel of very shitty people trying to sleep for trekking at five am, were enduring a party in the middle of the street attended by about twenty people with flags. Why was this a problem? Because they had a stage with a ten piece band that had been playing from 1pm until 11pm and at that stage still weren’t looking at stopping, despite a crazy English girl in the hostel hanging her head out the window and abusing them in Spanish for their lack of consideration of others.
I went briefly to investigate this fiasco while on the hunt for food and discovered that not only was there a band, but they had back up dancers in g-strings and I could see what they ate for breakfast. My sensitive western ways wanted to blindfold and cover the eyes of all small children everywhere to protect them from the sexually provocative images being promoted to urge people to vote for this clearly above board chap. But then, maybe I’m just a prude.
However you look at it, they aren’t campaigning with good values in mind, well most of them…. So what values are they campaigning for?
4. Politicians in Peru earn a shit ton of money.
I have it on authority from a local that many of these low level politicians can be earning as much as $8000 USD a month!?! Yep. That’s even more than most westerners earn and we’re talking about a country where the minimum income is a bit over $200 USD a month. So despite not knowing what you’re doing, you ain’t really got a whole lot to lose by running for parliament. As it was, in the area of central Lima alone, there were over 450 candidates running. No wonder people have no idea who to vote for and no wonder it winds up being a shit show.
5. Roadworks tend to increase when elections are called.
An insight from a friend’s Peruvian mum is thatroadworks always start happening when elections are on. For two reasons. Firstly it is the most blatantly obvious way to point out to people that something is getting done. Because hey have to deal with it every day.
Secondly, because based on a survey of the average cost of a kilometre of road around the world, the cost of road in Peru is approximately three times larger than that of road in Europe. One has to wonder where exactly that money is going, and one can also take a pretty good guesstimate that it is going straight into the coffers of those in fear of not being re-elected. You know, saving for a rainy day, when your opportunity to steal from the general population disappears….. Last minute panic.
About a month on and everything seems to have settled back to normal. The houses are still painted and there are still billboards and advertisements everywhere, but the hype has definitely settled and it is back to business as usual. Less roadworks, as they have now started to steadily cease. And backpackers everywhere rejoice because they can sleep without the noisiest of campaigns happening outside their windows.