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Having a Party with Politics

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I'm really excited about the election. Not the American election (which I'm not talking about on this blog, unless sudden upsets become relevant to our travels), but the Peruvian elections coming up this fall. For sheer enjoyment of the political process, nothing beats a country in which you don't speak the language, don't understand the process, and don't have a stake in the outcome. It's all the fun of parades, crazy guys shouting through loudspeakers while perched precariously on the back of trucks, and omnipresent political advertising, without an investment in the outcome or the stress of civic duty.

The Peruvian election graphically illustrates that all the folks hyperventilating about evil corporations buying our political process following Citizens United are worried about nothing. Corporations can spend every drop of profit that they have on advertising, along with the unions, and tap into leftover TARP funds, and we still won't approach the level of political advertising of a Peruvian regional election. I have never in my life seen as many ads for candidates as I have in three weeks in Peru. Indeed, I may have seen more campaign signs, walls painted with slogans, buildings decked up to proclaim their allegiance to a particular party, large rocks decorated in campaign symbols, and cars sloshed with partisan paint than I have seen in the rest of my life combined. I kept thinking I'd turn the corner and find some young mother moving too slowly down the street, and some hack busily tattooing party symbols on the baby hanging from her back. [1]

I have no idea which party is which, or their positions. What I do know is their symbols, which are very important. While traveling through Peru, we've met people who speak one or more of Spanish, Quechua, or Aymara, and I'm sure there are other tongues. Moreover, about 7% of Peruvians can't read, according to Wikipedia. Presumably for this reason, every party political sign includes the party symbol with an X over it, illustrating how supporters should vote. [2] Thus, to go only by the pictures, Peru's political parties include, among others, the Condor Party, the My Logo Looks Like the O in Vodaphone Party, the Soccer Ball Party (I could make out that they're for more spending on sports and education), the Wheat Party, the Pan Pipe Party, the Incan Profile Party, and my personal favorite, Pan: the Bread Party. Their symbol is a loaf of bread, and depending upon the size of the wall bearing the advertisement, the logo either looks like a dinner roll or enough bread to feed a family of eight for a fortnight. Sometimes the loaf is framed by the outline of a mountain.

Pan's ads are cheery, brightly colored in greens and reds (except for the bread, which is the color you would expect), and I like them for their simplicity. Again, for all I know they're the party furthest away from my own politics, but I base my fondness solely upon their branding. It's a little liberating to chose your political support based on wholly senseless reasons.

While I never changed my political loyalties, other of our traveling companions were more fickle in their adoptive politics. One young lady was particularly fond of the Pan Flute Party, until she saw some of their supporters dancing down the street in a parade. Every man carried a cardboard cutlass covered in shiny foil, while every woman mimicked the moves of the men, sans weapon. Deciding that this was not her feminist cup of tea, she began looking for alternate choices. (I think, but can't actually remember, that she settled on the Sprouting Shamrock party.)

However, if I were a nationalized Peruvian voting for the first time, I think I would find democracy itself a disappointment, at least after I'd read the instructions helpfully provided by ONPE, the Peruvian agency responsible for voter education. ONPE's posters, explaining how to vote, were posted in most of the town squares, and as public service posters go, they were concise, direct and beat the heck out of anything you see at the post office. (Look at it this way: I could understand them with my limited Spanish. Imagine reading voter education signs in New York if your first language weren't English.) However, the sample ballot on the signs had even better political parties: the Pumpkin Party, the Internet Party (symbol: @, of course), and the Fudgesicle Party, among a dozen others. After that, Bread and Condors (let alone elephants and donkeys--how boring are we?) just can't compete.

[1] We asked one of our guides whether candidates were required to paint over these ads after the election, and he told us that while they were supposed to do so, they often did not. On the other hand, one mayoral candidate took advantage of this, with posters and banners proclaiming (roughly translated) "[Candidate] believes that we should keep Puno beautiful, so he doesn't paint ads on the walls."

[2] This caused us a few seconds of cultural confusion. Because the symbol was covered by an "X," we originally thought that these were somehow negative ads: "Don't vote for the Bread Party," etc. In actual fact, I've not seen a negative ad yet, which is perhaps aided by the multitude of political parties. Maybe it's easier to go positive for yourself than to trash a dozen other factions. Or maybe negative ads have been banned. I don't know.

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3 Comments

Oh to be the graphic designer for these campaigns, that would be such a rad project to hang a hat on.

Ooh, tough to choose between internet party and fudgesicle party! Maybe some kind of coalition could be arranged?

Bill and I have also witnessed the political process in South Korea, albeit a city-wide one. The campaign was right beneath Melody's apartment window from the hours of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m - nonstop! The parties had the trucks with candidates on megaphones, and cheerleaders on the streets doing dance routines. They did not mind if you joined either. After over 2 weeks of this, the campaigning got a little old for us. It was still going on after we left, poor Mel. We also saw a scaled-down version in Rincon, Puerto Rico - just the trucks blaring out the political message. Does this form of democracy say something about ours? happy trails, gayle

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