I’m taking a break from the Odd Jobs series to write a short post about the Argentina presidential election that happened yesterday.  Being from the US, I found a few things odd about “the rules” and thought I’d share a foreigner’s perspective.

Odd Rules for Argentina Elections

1.  Voting is mandatory for all citizens.

In the US, the voter turnout rates are pathetic.  But I have said many times that I would prefer that people who do not care enough to register to vote stay away from the polls.  If they don’t care about the election, they probably are not going to educate themselves on the issues.

Note that I have also learned from other travelers that mandatory voting is not uncommon in other parts of the world (e.g. Australia).

2.  Elections are on a Sunday.

I assume that because voting is mandatory, elections are always held on a Sunday, since this day would cause the least disruption to business/ government.

3.  All alcohol sales stop after 8pm on the Saturday before an election and do not start again until 9pm on Sunday after the polls close.

I find this to be the strangest rule of all.  There might be riots in the streets in the US if this rule was enacted. 

Of course, it doesn’t take much to plan to buy a six-pack or some wine before 9pm.  But what surprises me the most is that bars have to close at 9pm and restaurants have to stop selling alcohol on what is most likely their busiest night of the week.

In my humble opinion, this rule does not prevent people from getting drunk and casting their vote (which is what I assume the government is trying to do).  It just hurts businesses.

Note that this rule must not be heavily enforced because I saw restaurants serving alcohol quite openly on Sunday.  But can you blame them if the majority of their clientele are expats that cannot vote?

4.  You can become president with a very low percentage of the vote.

There are many political parties in Argentina, and you end up with many candidates on the ballot (7 in this presidential election).  Argentina uses a runoff voting system.  If someone gets more than 45% of the vote, he or she wins.  Or if someone gets more than 40% of the vote and there is more than 10 percentage points separating him or her from the 2nd place candidate, it’s a win.

Otherwise, there is a runoff election with the top 2 candidates.  Imagine if you have 5 candidates, and the numbers are 25%, 20%, 20%, 20%, 15%.  The top two candidates have a runoff, and you end up with a president who only received either 25% or 20% of the original vote.

But then again…

I have never liked the 2-party system in the US.  You’re always choosing between the lesser of two evils, and you feel like you’re throwing your vote away if you vote for “the other guy.”

I admit that I am quite ignorant about political systems around the world.

It is not a topic that I would take any great interest in researching.  At least living in a foreign country long enough to learn a little about their political system has given me a new perspective.

All I know for sure is that I still don’t like politics.

What surprising things have you learned about political systems in foreign countries?