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Election fraud in South America

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Even if one cannot do a lot against election fraud, there are still a lot of ways to oblige the government to adopt clear and impartial electoral rules, writes Constant C.

Keiko Fujimori on the campaign trail - Photograph: Arthur Ide
Keiko Fujimori on the campaign trail – Photograph: Arthur Ide

On different occasions, I had the opportunity to work in South America. The first time was in Peru, in 2011. The second was in Mexico, in mid-2012. On both these occasions, I arrived when presidential elections were going to be held. And I realised then how long the path towards a ‘clean democracy’ was.

In Peru, many scandals emerged before and after the election took place. They had to elect their president, and the two political favourites were Humala Ollanta, a former army officer responsible for the ‘andahuaylaso’ ( i.e. the “coup d’état of Andahuaylas”, an Andes town), which was aborted in 2000, and Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former dictator of the country, Alberto Fujimori. Her father took power democratically in 1990 and turned his country into a dictatorship, which ended in 2000.

During the campaign, corruption was frequent and spread to all levels of Peruvian society – from the media to the consumer, from the political elite to the working class. All means were used to gain votes such as giving kitchen utensils to poorer communities with the logo of the party they must vote for.

As in every election, the poor are the most affected by electoral fraud. Since they have an interest in this corruption they will not refuse or protest, as the political parties give them what they cannot afford to buy for their day-to-day life.

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In Mexico, the situation was more or less similar. Corruption and bribery…but I have also seen something more.

I lived in a very remote place, in the south of the country, Chiapas, the cradle of the Zapatistas, an insurrectionist movement.

On the day of the election, walking around the city, I was surprised by the way they organised it. Election can be defined as a complex system of rules and operational measures. But I could not see it anywhere. It seemed as if the election was held without any rules, each bureau was different from the other. The vote took place in the street where some tables, voting booths and ballot boxes were set up. Everybody knew that there would be fraud, as in previous elections. In these conditions, democracy would have been undermined, as a free and fair vote is central to its existence.

But Mexicans reacted to the fraud – the first time the result was contested. This happened in 2006, when Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador from the opposition party realised his election had been stolen by Felipe Calderon, from the governing Party, and called for a protest that paralysed Mexico D.F.

More recently, the ongoing movement named “Yo soy 132” (“I am 132”) showed how the people reacted. “I am 132”, the expression used in solidarity with the protest initiator, is a spontaneous social movement inspired by Occupy Wall Street, The Arab Spring and Madrid’s 15-M movement that calls for the democratisation of political life and free and fair elections.

Democracy is supposed to give voice to the people’s aspirations, through elections or through public expression. To live this kind of experience taught me that even if one cannot do a lot against election fraud, there are still a lot of ways to oblige the government to adopt clear and impartial electoral rules. Bersih appears to me as one of them.

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Constant C is an intrepid traveller currently based in Penang.

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