Friday, July 15, 2011

Election Campaigns

What first struck me about election season here were the inquiries people made leading up to voting time. It was never Who are you voting for? or What's you're stand? rather, it was Where are you going to vote? In order to strike up a conversation about the campaigns and elections, there's no reason to directly go for the kill with a question like "Do you prefer Filmus or Macri?" because whether you are stationed at the Guido Spano primary school in Palermo or the secondary school on the corner of Av. Las Heras and Alvear, you have to go somewhere. Voting is obligatory in Argentina.

Once I figured that out, I started asking my co-workers what they thought about the vote being mandatory and started to get an idea of the advantages and disadvantages of such laws. One of the main disadvantages that I've heard is the extent to which politicians buy votes from the poorer, uneducated citizens. Whether or not a person is able to follow the campaigns (which depends on access to media and a secondary education, which only 25% of students in rural areas complete), they have to vote for someone. Sometimes, the most desirable candidates are the ones who offer the plata (moulah) first, rather than the ones who will work to change access to education and health care in dispersed rural areas (which is desperately needed). This happens less in the urban cities, though, where 90% of Argentina's population lives.

I was talking to Gabi about all of this on the way to visit the Casa Rosada because the campaigns were in full swing that day. He made the best argument I've heard so far in favor of the obligatory vote. He said that what starts out as a law eventually becomes part of the cultural consciousness. Like obeying traffic laws in U.S. Obviously, we have our traffic problems and bad drivers, but for the most part, people stick to their own lane and stop when the light is red. In Argentina, lanes merely serve to make the highway look prettier, and red lights, well...
The reason for that, we both agreed, was that traffic laws are actually enforced in most American cities, whereas Argentines can get away with just about anything on the road short of causing a major accident. (This was his example, not mine. You may not agree about traffic in the U.S., but I can verify that the rhythm on the road is more aggressive here than, at least, in Little Rock).

Likewise, voting is part of the daily (or quadrennial) grind - something you do because it's something you do, like looking both ways before you cross the street. You don't question why, but deep down you know it's for your own good. So, even if it isn't something that interests an Argentine, he is still conscious on some fundamental level of the issues and agendas and has a motive to fulfill his civic duty. Unless, of course, he gets paid to vote for the third person down on the ballot.

Here are some of the more interesting campaign posters I saw around town:

"I have a dream between the eyebrows and I'm not going to stop until it comes true"

"They call us crazy because we want to govern without corruption. Ok, we're crazy."

And here's a campaign bus:

There's definitely a different tone to the campaigns here in Buenos Aires. They appeal to a wider public in some ways, using marketing techniques instead of stump speeches. Unfortunately, I don't have a tv, so I didn't get to watch the debates. But I do have a handful of political fliers that I had been collecting the week before the elections.

I'm posting this a little late because the elections took place last Sunday. The Saturday before is the only day in Argentina when you can't serve alcohol (apparently), so that there's nothing to keep the populace from waking up and making clear-headed decisions at the polls!

More on results and candidates coming soon...

8 comments:

abachelder said...

I was in Bangkok during their elections for Prime Minister on July 3rd (so interesting a time to be there!). They have the no alcohol rule, also, but for 2 days before and even 1 day afterward. Still no serving the day after because they are afraid people will drink and riot!

LyssaProvo said...

This sounds like what I went through a couple months ago. 3 day no alcohol rule and obligatory voting in Peru as well. It was definitely interesting to be here for it!

Tracy said...

Are there any males running for office or just females? And what about the two ladies ("ok, we're crazy").....are they going to share a position? Very interesting information!

Acadia said...

I've had some similarly interesting conversations about mandatory voting here in Australia. If they don't show up at the polls, Australians are immediately fined unless they can prove some sort of extenuating circumstances. Beyond the general grumbling, people I've spoken to seem to think it's been good for them for the exact reason your friend stated-- voting has become normative.

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