Saturday, November 5, 2011

Elections, violence, democracy

This probably won't be the last blog I write about the elections, or about violence, political or otherwise. I have been out of Guatemala for 24 hours but it is never far from my mind, and I have mixed feelings about not being in the country for the second round of the presidential election tomorrow. On the one hand, while I am very clear that I do not want Otto Pérez Molina to be elected the next president, I don't strongly support his opponent, Manuel Baldizón, so it's not as though I have a horse in this race to which I am emotionally attached. I'd be interested to see what the mood is; my sense is that apart from a few party loyalists, no one is very excited about the elections and I am not sure how high the voter turnout will be. People to whom I speak seem resigned or indifferent, or a bit anxious about the results. But not eagerly looking forward to the day as a great civic festival, as the radio ads from the Tribunal Supremo Electoral are exhorting citizens to make of this day.  On the other hand, since there has been an unusually high level of electoral violence, and my town is having not only a repeat of the presidential election but the mayoral election as well, I think it might not be a bad idea to not be around, as there was a mob and a riot during the vote count on the first round.

I was just reading two articles in local papers that occasioned this reflection. One noted that this year's electoral violence is the highest on record: 43 fatalities, 39 people injured, and a few dozen other incidents. The other article reported that RENOJ, a Maya youth organization that is sending electoral observers to 120-odd municipalities, has reported that at least four of its staff have received threats and intimidations from the two political parties in contention -- and one of the places where threats had been received was Chinique.

Although there are some non-partisan organizations that are organizing transportation for people from rural areas, I do not know how high the turnout will be, which means that the vote that may decide the outcome is the urban vote. 

And then there was another article about discrimination in the electoral registration processes. Many Maya voters have been effectively disenfranchised because the voter registration system cannot seem to properly register their names, which often involve an apostrophe or two.  This seems like linguistic discrimiation. As Judith Maxwell, a linguistic anthropologist whom I've met and who was quoted in the article notes, it's not as though computer keyboards cannot produce the proper symbol. And when the linguists developed a standardized Maya alphabet, they specifically chose symbols that were standardly used on typewriters and computer keyboards.  To be sure, Maya are not the only people who have not been able to vote because there are errors in the spelling of their names or their birth dates. The Dean of Anthropology and History at the university where I was teaching received a personal identification document with a birth date of 1711, and had to hire a lawyer to get it changed (I'm not sure she's succeeded in time for this election).

So welcome to electoral democracy, Central American style.

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