So I forgot to talk about Election Day! Last Sunday was Election Day, so I got to see PEruvian politics up close and personal. Well...more so than usual. Politics seem to be a visible part of daily life all year round.
In Peru voting is mandatory. If you don´t show up they will give you a fine, which is about 2 or 3 days worth of wages. And not only do you have to show up to vote, you may also be called up to run a polling station, an important job which has a correspondingly high fine if you fail your duty. This is not to say that you have to vote for any certain person, or any person at all. You can show up and say that you dont like any of the options, but you have to at least say you are not voting for a reason. You know, a reason besides being lazy.
Additionally, election day is set to a Sunday and is a national holiday. So everyone has plenty of time to travel to their polling station (Which can be very far away, for migrant workers)!
Because the law forces everyone to be involved, interest in politics is a lot higher in Peru. People are involved in the process at all levels, with parades, speeches and constant advertisements (usually large signs painted onto mountains on buildings). The ads are actually really interesting. Since a fairly large populations of Peruvians cant read (most illiterate citizens are women, who have a rate of 20% illiteracy according to some NGOs), most political parties have a symbol associated with their name. So when someone goes in to vote they can check the boss with the symbol, such as a llama, without having to worry about reading. Ive seen symbols ranging from cactus plants to candlesticks to mountains. It seems like most of the good symbols are already taken, but I´d like to think that if I were to ever run for office I´d still be able to get my personal favorite - a turtle. Maybe a smiling one.
Some people think this system just encourages a lot of ignorant people to vote haphazardly; the people who would normally not show up because they dont care are now forced to show up and pick a name at random. This can lead to some really awful winners. Also, migrant workers have to return to the region where they are registered, which can be across the country. They have to pay to take a bus 18 hours, or pay a large fine - not great options.
But even with the drawbacks, I really like this system. The people I have talked with have more concern for the political happenings in their community than most Americans I know...and they are more willing to step up and be heavily involved in their community. And having election day be a holiday just makes SO much sense, making it easyier and more convenient for every citizen to have a say. Why is this a hard concept for the US?