Argentines went to the polls this weekend in Congressional primary elections, where half of Senate seats and a third of the seats in the chamber of deputies are up for grabs. The most anticipated storyline was ex-president Cristina Kirchner‘s bid for a Senate seat as she breaks with the “Peronista” party to forge ahead with her own independent political movement.
Center-right president Mauricio Macri’s party, Cambiemos, thus faced a divided front on the left. The Cambiemos coalition racked up about 36% of the vote, with the traditional Peronist Party and Cristina Kirchner’s new movement trailing with just under 20% each. PanAm Post English editor David Unsworth spoke with Buenos Aires journalist Marcelo Duclos about the election results, and the implications going into October 2017 Congressional elections, and looking forward to the 2019 presidential election.
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Regarding the surprise decision of Kirchner to start her own political party, Duclos sees concerns over an anti-Kirchner “spoiler vote” as a motivating factor: “she wanted to be the only candidate…maybe she was afraid that if she was going to compete with another candidate in the Partido Justicialista, which already has one candidate Florencia Randazo, a former minister of Cristina…maybe one of the theories about the situation is that Cristina was afraid to compete with another Peronist because…she was afraid that most of the people against Cristina Kirchner and her government might vote in that primary just to complicate her chances.”
“She needs to be in the Congress” to enjoy some measure of parliamentary immunity from criminal prosecution, but “also you have another theory that says that Macri is not interested in having Kirchner in prison, because if she is free and competing in the election, she might be the one who splits the opposition, and that would be something interesting…Macri is not facing a united Peronist opposition.”
Duclos also notes that Kirchner’s has never been one who has sought to retire from the political limelight with grace: “most of the people in the country, they’re really not interested to have Cristina Kirchner back in power, so Peronism needs a new face, a new leader, but she’s refusing to retire from politics. That situation is something really good for Macri.”
Ultimately, Macri does not have enough support to win an outright majority in Congress, meaning that he will need to work with more moderate elements in the opposition. Centrist Peronista Sergio Massa, for example, is likely to emerge as an instrumental figure in that effort, although his candidates faced a disappointing showing this weekend.
In two months, all eyes will be on Argentina again, as they elect a large chunk of the legislative branch. Political commentators will be paying close attention to Cristina Kirchner’s Senate bid, as well as the degree to which the new National Assembly will support or oppose Macri’s agenda of economic reform, which has been cheered by investors and the business community.