The aftermath of the tragic events in Tucson, Arizona, is still unfolding, but from a Peruvian standpoint certain lessons might be getting through to a country that is democratic in name but not in substance. Gabrielle Giffords was holding a clinic in front of a supermarket with the intention of getting to know her constituents better so as to represent them more effectively in Washington.
Read more about Columbans in Peru
The Diamonds are lay missionaries in Peru. Read some recent entries from their blog, Diamonds on a Mission
Peru has made a return to democratic politics since 1980 and finds a popular acceptance with the people. However, it does not encourage popular participation. In Peru, the political party dominates the electoral system. The party has to present a presidential candidate and a list of candidates seeking to occupy one of the 120 seats of government.
This list stays with the official electoral committee and after the elections are over, the first two presidential candidates past the post go into a run-off if they haven’t received 50% or more of the vote. The votes for the representatives are then tallied and according to the percentage of the votes cast for the party will determine the number of seats the party will get in government. If the number of votes given to the party is such that it will be given 20 seats, then the first twenty names on the electoral list already in the hands of the official committee, are elected.
It makes no difference where you come from, what your policies are, what your religion is, or how you campaigned during the elections. If you are sufficiently well placed on that official list, then you are elected. As a result of such loose affiliation, there is little unity in parties, and they are inclined to form splinter groups.
One of the serious results of this kind of democracy is that towns, cities and regions go unrepresented in government. People are not aware that they are represented in government, and government has little influence on the lives of the people. It seems to be taken for granted that local elections are enough to deal with local problems. To a certain extent this is true, but it certainly doesn’t cover the more serious and more acrimonious situations that arise.
This has been evident in riots and demonstrations that have spun out of control and where lives have been lost. A locally elected deputy could represent his people in government in Lima before things get out of hand. As it is, roads and highways are cut, and police stations are attacked before any notice is taken in Lima which can be more than 1,000 kilometers away.
If the best slots on the party list go to the highest bidders, well then, no one can match the drug traffickers for laying out cash. In fairness to the Peruvian government, there is an office run by Percy Medina called Transperencia that vets the candidates, but it is understaffed and underfunded. The system is wide open to abuse, and we are now discovering that abuse is prevalent.
Democracy is not just winning elections. It is about safeguarding basic values of life for which winning elections is a means. It is more about respect for the person, the common good, freedom and justice for all. The person who comes along to a leader of a party and shoves $250,000 into his hand demanding to be first on the party list represents nobody but his own obnoxious self.
Fr. Maurice Foley lives and works in Peru.