A letter from Rusty Edmondson and Sara Armstrong in Peru
Peruvian and U.S. elections are really quite different! Every five years Peruvians have presidential elections, in addition to the regional and congressional ones. On April 10 Peruvians went to the polls to decide between the 11 presidential candidates. But the results were not definitive. According to Peruvian law a candidate must receive 50 percent of the votes to serve as president. So there will be another election. It has been, and will be, a long campaign. The country was covered with billboards. Some advertising was actually quite creative.
We stayed on the plaza in the mountain town of Cajamarca during the first week of March. One of the Socialist candidates’ supporters had a rally that started with bands and music at 2:30 in the morning and marched around the plaza and surrounding neighborhood until 5 a.m. Obviously this interrupted sleep led us to view that man less favorably! On the same trip our flight was delayed in Trujillo as a candidate’s plane landed and she was met by cheering crowds. I was intrigued that Peruvians have the same curiosity as we do when a presidential candidate comes to town.
One of the aspects of the campaign that struck me was that, in addition to door-to-door campaigning and radio and TV ads, this year there were two televised debates. This seems very much related to U.S. campaign tactics. The first debate featured all 11 candidates. The second one, the week before the election, featured the top 5 people in the polls. We could not help but compare the polished performance in U.S. debates to the Peruvian ones. Here they read their answers from papers on the podium. (That also means they all had all the questions before the “debate.”)
We watched for two hours trying to decide for whom we would vote, were the decision up to us. We knew something of our national position on the candidates because WikiLeaks had leaked U.S. embassy documents with position papers on each candidate to the press weeks before the election. It was also revealing to see what the candidates considered the top issues in the country: a booming economy with 7 percent GDP growth, corruption, jobs for 3 million young people entering the job force, Peru’s new position as the number one source in the world for cocaine, law enforcement, education, government benefits ...
All the political rhetoric gave us some interesting insights into the Spanish language. One candidate ran a humorous anticorruption campaign. Lucho Galarreta’s campaign poster proclaims, “A mi, nadie me rompe la mano (No one can ‘break my hand’ [by making me accept money under the table]).” Of course!; He has no hand!
Many people were surprised by the April 10th election results. Two candidates took the lead. Ollanta Humala is a left-leaning former military man from the Andes who is fluent in Quechua. Many consider the votes he received to be an expression of discontent with current government policies in the provinces. The other is a conservative-leaning young attorney and businesswoman, Keiko Fujimori, who is the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori. He is known for ending the Peruvian “time of terror” war in 2003. Some of his actions led to his recent trial and imprisonment. While many rejoiced in the end of the war, they are cautious now. Some think that the father will rule the country through the daughter. Right now there is no clear winning candidate.
One stunning difference in the election process is that Peruvian law requires its citizens to vote. The penalty for not voting and receiving a mark on your national ID is that you cannot do any business related to banking or government until you pay the fines. This has a big impact on voter participation. Another shocking difference for us was that the law forbids public gatherings, such as church, on the Sundays of the election. Some rural churches meet anyway but most do not. Another election law forbids the sale of alcohol for four days, before and during the election. You would think that would not affect Peruvian Protestants, but many restaurants, offended by the loss of millions of dollars of revenue, closed in protest. (It was estimated that in Lima alone the loss of revenue would exceed $54 million.) That left us with a hungry team looking for a safe place to eat.
The election that will decide who becomes the next president of Peru will be on June 5. That means we face another two months of billboards and rhetoric! The election could go to either candidate, and our lives will be affected by the results. So on the first Sunday of June we will be watching the returns ... again! Pray for the Peruvian electoral process and its impact on the church.
Sara Armstrong and Rusty Edmondson
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 300