Karencita de Perú

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Yesterday was election day here in Peru.  Today many people are very worried.

The new President has not been elected yet.  The way the electoral system works here in Peru is that if there is no majority winner after the first vote is goes to a ‘segunda vuelta’ or a run-off.  The two candidates who received the most votes in the first round go head-to-head in the second round and voters must choose one of them.  The next phase of the election process will take place on June 5th.

The results of the first vote, for many, have led to the worst possible outcome.  As of approximately 5:30pm on April 11th about 87% of the votes have been counted.  The leader, with 31.37% of the votes is Ollanta Humala of the party Gana Peru.  Next, is Keiko Fujimori from Fuerza 2011 with 23.223% of the vote.  The early results showed Keiko and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) neck and neck, but as more votes from the rural areas have come in the advantage has swung in Keiko’s favor.  Currently PPK is in third place with 19.225%.

What this means is that the run-off will be between Humala Ollanta and Keiko Fujimori.  In polls done prior to the election, close to 50% of the population said they would never vote for either of these candidates.  Now they will be forced to choose between two undesirable options or to leave their ballot blank.

For those not familiar with Peruvian politics you may be wondering why this is such a bad thing.   Basically, the feeling of many is that they must now choose between Ollanta, a violent, militant admirer of Hugo Chavez and Keiko, the 36-year old,  inexperienced daughter of Alberto Fujimori, who is currently imprisoned for human rights abuses.  The following CNN report sums of the results nicely.  http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/americas/04/11/peru.elections/index.html

How could this happen?  Peru has experienced a lot of growth over the past few years and it’s economy is currently one of the best in South America.   It is the fastest growing economy in Latin America and that growth is projected to continue at 7% in the next year.  While many people have benefited from this economic growth and conditions have improved, there is still a large part of the population, mostly rural, that are living in poverty.   Keiko and Ollanta are the furthest left on the political spectrum of the five candidates that were running for President.  They focussed their campaigns on the poor and rural population, making promises that they are going to help improve their conditions.  Many of these people have little education and feel that they have been ignored or forgotten by previous, more right-leaning leaders.  So, for them, the promises of Keiko and Ollanta are enticing and they are either willing to overlook the negatives or don’t understand the implications of what having either of these two as President could mean for the future economic and political stability of the country.

Another factor that lead to this result is that the vote on the right got split between three candidates instead of just two on the left.   Talking to many people before the election many were undecided between PPK, ex-President Alejandro Toledo and former mayor of Lima Luis Castañeda.  All three candidates proposed sound economic platforms that would have likely ensure continued economic growth and political stability.  Castañeda ended up with only 10% of the vote.  If his vote had gone to either PPK or Toledo , who finished with 15% of the vote,  either one would have ended up in second place, beating out Keiko.

So now the country’s future is uncertain.  Foreigners in Peru are especially worried, more so if Ollanta becomes the eventual President.  Here is the question posed in Facebook by Ben Jonjak of Expatriates in Peru, “I’m curious as to the opinions expats have over the election. Are any of you scared by the possibility of Fujimori or Humala as president? Is this fear great enough that you’re considering leaving Peru? Let me know so I can post your comments (anonymously) and let other expats know your thoughts.”  It will be interesting to see the reaction from within the country as well as internationally once the final result is determined.


At 12:01am on Friday April 8th, the Ley Seca begins here in Peru.   This is the Dry Law that says that no alcohol can be sold prior to Sunday’s Presidential election.  Ironically, one of Peru’s leading grocery chains had a big sale on alcohol today and the place was packed.

I have to say that one of the things that has struck me most about the Peruvian election campaign is that it is very colorful, both figuratively and literally.  Each party has colors to represent it that are very bright and definitely call attention.  In addition, the ballots marked by the voters for President and Vice President  not only contain each candidate’s photo but also the symbol that represents the party.  Voters will also be electing members of congress.  Each person running for congress is represented by a number.  Voters can just mark an ‘X’ on the symbol of the party they want to elect the congressman or woman from or they can write the numbers of two specific individuals who are running for congress, as long as they are from the same party.

So, when they make their important civic decision on Sunday, what options do Peruvians have to choose from?  Five hopeful candidates are running for the post of President. Let’s take a brief look at each candidate, their parties, their symbols and their colors.

Alejandro Toledo – Alianza Perú Posible

Party colors:  yellow & green

Slogan: “What I did well I will do better”

Toledo served as President of Peru from 2001 – 2006.  He has a Ph.D in Economics of Human Resources. He is most well-known for his opposition again former President Alberto Fujimori. Toledo portrays himself as a center-leftist, promising voters not only economic development but also social development.

Keiko Fujimori – Fuerza 2011

Party Colors:  Orange & White

Slogan: Keiko Presidente

As the name suggests, Keiko Fujimori is the daughter of imprisoned Peruvian ex-President Alberto Fujimori.  She is the only female candidate and the youngest at age 35.  She has an MBA and is a Congresswoman in the current government.   She is a spokeswoman for the poor and underprivileged and is mostly supported by the rural population.  Here campaign has been surrounded by the controversy that, if elected, many think she will pardon her father. 

Luis Castañeda Lossio – Solidaridad Nacional

Party Colors:  Yellow

Slogan:  Para que todos vivamos mejor (So that we all live better)

Castañedo, often referred to as Lucho, is the former mayor of the City of Lima.  His term ended in late 2010.  As mayor he completed many works projects the most visible being the Metropolitano bus system.  His support is concentrated mainly in Lima and has waned off in the last weeks of the campaign.

Ollanta Humala – Gana Perú

Party Colors:  Red & White

Slogan:  Honestidad para hacer la diferencia (Honesty to make the difference)

Ollanta is one of the most controversial of the candidates due to his ties to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.   Ollanta served in the Peruvian army and achieved the rank Lieutenant Colonel.  He is leftist leaning but has moved his policies closer to the center to gain more support from voters.  Ollanta was ahead in the final poll published prior to the election, but according to the poll, would lose against all candidates in the likely event of a run-off.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski – Alianza por el Gran Cambio

Colors: multiple

Slogan: “PPKuy sabe cómo hacerlo” (PPKuy knows how to do it)

Kuczynski, most commonly referred to as PPK, served as Minister of Energy and Mining, of the Economy and President of the Council of Ministers in Toledos government.  He is an economist and has a sound reputation for conventional economics.   During the campaign, PPK became known for his mascot, PPKuy, a human-sized guinea pig character that has been the success of his campaign and has turned into a promotional sensation.  PPK has been the only candidate to honestly say that there are limits to what the government can spend to solve some of the countries problems such as poverty and underpaid teachers and police.

On Sunday April 10, 2011 Peruvians will go to the polls to elect a new President.  As a Canadian living in Peru it has been interesting to watch the campaign process and compare elections here to those in Canada.  Here are some of the major differences about the system of government and the election process.

Political System

Peru is a Constitutional Republic unlike Canada which is a Parliamentary Democracy.  This means that in Peru, like in the US, the public votes directly for the leader of the country, the President.  In Canada we do not get to vote directly for the leader, the Prime Minister.   Canadians vote for their local Member of Parliament (MP) only.

Peru has three levels of government.

1.  The Executive –  The powers of the executive are held by the President who performs the duties of the Head of State.  The President conducts government policies supported by a cabinet of 15 ministers, who he appoints.

2.  The Legislative – The National Congress, made up of 120 members, is responsible for representing the collective opinion of the nation.  It’s main duties are:

  • Representation of the people,
  • Making of the laws that rule the country
  • Oversight of the other branches of government
  • In charge of the final amendment of the Constitution

3.  The Judicial – headed by the Supreme Court of Justice which has jurisdiction over the entire nation. The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the National Council of the Judiciary.

Canada also has 3 levels of government – the monarchy, the Senate and the House of Commons; however it could be argued that only one of these, the House of Commons, really has any power.

Mandatory Vote

It is obligatory to vote in Peru.  If Peruvians don’t vote they will be fined.  Interestingly, the amount of the fine varies depending on where you live.  If you live in a district considered “not poor” the fine is currently 72 soles (approx. $25).  If you live in a district considered “not extremely poor” the current fine is 36 soles ($12.50).  Finally, if you live in a district considered “poor” the fine is only 18 soles ($6.25).

Even Peruvians living abroad must vote.   A watched a program on TV the other day about the election campaign in New York, USA.  There is a large population of Peruvians there.  Each party has a campaign headquarters and there are the same election signs that you see on the streets or Lima in the streets of New York in the neighborhoods where the majority of the Peruvian population lives.

Election Process

Peru has fixed elections every 5 years.  In contrast, the Canadian system has non- fixed election dates and elections can be called or forced at any time.  This means that the upcoming Canadian Federal Election of May 2nd will be the 5th time that voters have had to go to the polls since the year 2000.  It is interesting that Peruvians and Canadians will both be voting for a new government less than a month apart.

Elections in Peru are always on a Sunday whereas in Canada they usually fall on a Monday.

Every election needs people to collect and count the ballots on voting day.   The organization that runs the voting process in Peru is called ONPE (Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorals).   Citizens are appointed to be Miembros de  Mesa (Members of  Table), an obligatory duty.  If you do not comply you will be fined.  My husband had the (mis)fortune of being selected to be a Miembro de Mesa.  He had to attend a 2.5 hour training class last Sunday and will be expected to work the polls from 7:30am until all the ballots are counted on April 10th.  The polls close here at 4pm and it is hoped that the votes would be counted by 7:30pm.  There is no pay for giving up your time as it is considered a civic duty.  They don’t even provide food to the workers.

In Canada elections are managed by Elections Canada.   Citizens are hired for a number of positions leading up to the election and on election day.  A poll clerk,  work at a polling stations handling the ballots and directly voters to the appropriate voting booth is paid $168.26 for the day.

Next time I’ll talk a little about the candidates, the parties and the key issues in the election campaign.

Today was election day in Perú.  The elections are for the alcaldes (mayors) of each district as well the alcalde de La Provincia de Lima.   In each district, only the people who live in that district can vote for their local candidate.   However, everyone that lives in the Province of Lima votes for the Mayor of Lima.  The Mayor of Lima is the second most important person in government after The President, Alan Garcia.

The current Mayor of Lima is Luis Castañeda Lossio.  He is not running for re-election as he has already served two terms.  One of his greatest achievements is the completion of the Metropolitano transit system.

Interestingly, the top two candidates for the Mayor of Lima in this election are both women.  Lourdes Flores is the candidate for the Partido Popular Cristiano, which is a conservative Christian party and Susana Villarán is the candidate for Fuerza Social, a left-wing party.  Lourdes Flores had a large lead early in the campaign, but a couple of weeks ago she was involved in a wire-tap scandal that hurt her in the polls.  She gained back some ground this last week and the race is extremely close.

Unlike in Canada the elections here are held on a Sunday.  The polls open at 8am and close at 4pm.  Normally, the results are known by 7 or 8pm, but because the race is so close, as of 9pm tonight the results for the Mayor of Lima have still not been confirmed.

In addition to voting for their local district mayor and the Provincial Mayor, Peruvians are also voting on a referendum in this election.  The referendum is over a proposed bill to return Fonavi (Fondo Nacional de Vivienda) funds to the workers who contributed to it.  Fonavi was a national housing and infrastructure fund to which worker’s contributed from 1979 to 1998 but from which they never received any benefits.  The national government has indicated that if the bill passes they will raise taxes to pay for the program.  The big question is what happened to the funds they originally deducted from the workers!  With a sales tax that is already a whopping 19%, it seems insane that they are considering raising it as high as 22%.

Leaving aside the politics of the election, what I have found more interesting is the electoral process.   All Peruvians over the age of 18 years are obligated to vote.  Voting is mandatory and if you don’t vote you are fined.  Even if you are traveling abroad at the time of an election you are required to go to the nearest Peruvian Embassy to vote.  There are, however, some Peruvians who still do not vote and pay the fine, especially if they are not near the district in which they reside or a Peruvian Embassy at the time of the election.  Luis received a fine for not voting while he lived in Russia.

It is also mandatory to serve as a Miembro de Mesa (Member of the Table)  if you are selected.  The Miembros de Mesa are the people who work at the polls.  They check people’s identity, give them their ballots and then take finger prints after the ballots are deposited in the box as proof that the person voted.  After the polls close they are responsible for counting the votes.  As with voting, people are also required to pay a fine for not serving as a Miembro de Mesa if they have been chosen.  Unfortunately, Luis was selected when he was in Russia and was fined for that as well.

Finally, the strangest thing about elections in Peru is something called La Ley Seca (The Dry Law).  The law states that no alcohol can be served or sold in public places starting on the Friday prior to the election.   So the restaurants and bars are prohibited from serving alcohol and you can’t buy alcohol in any stores.   I can’t quite understand why it is necessary to stop people from drinking two days prior to voting, but someone must have had a reason for it.

Even with La Ley Seca in place, alcohol can still be found relatively easily.  On Friday night we took a stroll down La Calle de Las Pizzas, a pedestrian walkway flanked with bars and restaurants.  Some were abiding by the law, but a number were calling to customers telling them they could get drinks on the second floor.  We ended up going to Shehadi, a popular restaurant/bar across from Parque Kennedy on Avenida Diagonal.  We asked if they were serving alcohol, more out of curiosity than anything, and they said yes.  The waitress said it was worth it for them to pay the fine because of the business they would generate.  Also, the owner is American and apparently didn’t see the need to comply with the law.  So, we happily stopped for a drink with a few friends.   The surprise came when we received the bill.  They charges each person a S/.7 cover charge.  So in essence, we were the ones paying the fine, not the owner!

Recently there have been a number of international news stories in the headlines in Peru that I thought I would share.

First is the sad story of the murder of a 21-year old Stephany Flores Ramirez at a hotel in Lima on May 30th.  The suspected killer is Joran Van der Sloot, a 22-year old dutchman.  Van der Sloot was accused of killing another woman, Natalie Holloway, in Aruba in 2005 but was never convicted.   After the killing he fled to Chile and was on the lam until he was captured by authorities on June 3rd.  Van der Sloot has now be extradited to Peru and today has apparently admitted to the murder.  If convicted, murder carries a penalty of 35-years in Peru.  See the latest details here.

Ramirez and Van der Sloot met on May 30th at the Atlantic City Casino & Hotel, which is 3 blocks from where I live.  Van der Sloot is apparently an avid gambler and was  attending a Latin American Poker Tour event here in Lima.  I found out about the tournament  via the news story and thought I better go check it out.  On Saturday afternoon we went to the Atlantic City Casino and watched the end of the tournament.  When we arrived there were 3 players remaining but the Peruvian player, Eric Cabrera, was quickly knocked out to the dismay of the crowed.  The final two players were Ben Barrows from the U.S. and Jose “Nacho” Babero from Argentina.  The heads up round didn’t last long and “Nacho” was the eventual winner of the top prize of $250,000.  It was fun to watch the event, sponsored by Poker Stars, with all the cameras and the energy of the crowd.   I checked the player list to see if there were any big names but didn’t see anyone.  There were, however, a fair number of Canadians in the tourney.  The top Canadian finished 13th our of 384 players.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with  me so I don’t have any pictures of the event.  For you poker fanatics, here are more details about the tourney.

Apart from murder and gambling, the other big news here is  political.  Bill and Hillary Clinton are in town.  Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was here to attend the Organization of American States General Assembly (OAS) on June 7th.  I had never heard of the OAS before and am still not really sure what it does, but it seems like an important international organization and her visit has received a lot of news coverage.   Here is some further details about the OAS meeting.  Wow, in this photo of Hillary Clinton with President Alan Garcia it looks like either Hillary is very small or Garcia is huge!

Bill Clinton, head of The Clinton Foundation met with President Garcia today.  The foundations stated mission is to “strengthen the capacity of people throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence.”   Clinton stated that his Foundation’s work is underway in Peru.  It is doing work with children to help them out of difficult situations and is also looking at how to use tax money to reinvest in youth.

Clinton also noted that “We are helping the city of Lima to replace all traffic lights with a system of high efficiency lamps. These lights consume only 10% of current consumption  which would save a million and half dollars a year in electricity.   An intelligent system allows better control and this reduces traffic congestion and CO2 production”.

After meeting with Garcia, Clinton met with Luis Castañeda Lossio, the mayor of Lima.  During a ceremony at the Metropolitano Central Station, Clinton was handed the keys to the city.

Keeping my friends, family and co-workers up to date on my life and adventures in Perú!

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Miraflores in Lima Perú