Mandatory voting in Peru leads to high turnouts, but the numbers belie a disenchantment with political parties among the electorate, which often feels isolated from campaigns, particularly in rural areas.
So in the weeks leading up to April 10 presidential and congressional elections, Transparencia (Transparency), a leading civic group working to consolidate democracy in Peru, organized a series of candidate debates accompanied by electoral fairs that provided an opportunity for citizens outside the capital of Lima to interact personally with candidates and campaign staffs.
Transparencia organized five fairs in different areas of the country, all within a day of the congressional debate in the respective region. Attendees could speak directly with candidates and learn about their electoral platforms or views on specific policy issues.
The fairs were conducted in large public spaces and featured booths hosted by political parties, regional political movements, civic groups and election officials. By including civil society organizations and electoral institutions, citizens could learn both about the voting process while also comparing the positions of candidates.
The political parties presented information on their key issues and candidates. For candidates, the fairs were a chance to present their platforms to voters in a more informal setting than through debates or campaign speeches. At the end of the fairs, candidates made closing statements on their platforms.
More than 5,000 Peruvians visited the fairs, which were held in Ayacucho and Cusco in the south and Cajamarca, Lambayeque and San Martín in the north. Transparencia is an NDI partner and the Institute helped with organizing both the fairs and debates. NDI also organized workshops for congressional candidates on political communication and on-camera techniques to help them communicate more effectively with voters at the fairs and debates.
Transparencia and NDI also organized electoral fairs during the 2006 election cycle. A goal this year was to make them appealing and accessible to a greater number of citizens, and one tactic employed was to bring arts and culture into the fairs.
The Lambayeque electoral fair, for example, featured a local theater company performing short skits related to the elections. The skits attracted crowds and led to exchanges between candidates and audience members. Additionally, the fairs enabled citizens to post questions for candidates to answer during their public remarks. Candidates were sometimes forced to address tough questions that were not pre-screened.
Peru is now preparing for a second round of presidential elections on June 5 since no candidate achieved the necessary majority of votes to win outright. The candidates are Ollanta Humala, a former army officer, and Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.
NDI is continuing to work in partnership with Transparencia and the National Board of Elections (Jurado Nacional de Elecciones, JNE) for second round presidential debates. Additionally, NDI is supporting the launch of a citizen monitoring website with local partner Proetica (ProEthics) to monitor the platform and campaign promises of congressional candidates in three pilot regions: Cusco, Lambayeque and San Martín.
- See more photos of the electoral fair in Cajamarca»
- Candidate Debates Focus on Issues, Solutions in Peru»
Pictured above: A representative of the National Office of Electoral Processes (Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales, ONPE), shows a citizen a sample ballot and how it should be filled out.
Published May 3, 2011