Yesterday, Argentina went to the polls in critical midterm elections, which pitted president Mauricio Macri‘s Cambiemos party against former president Cristina Kirchner‘s new Citizens’ Unity party. The election was overshadowed by the death of a young indigenous rights activist, Santiago Maldonado, who had disappeared this summer following protests. However, his autopsy revealed that he drowned, and thus, Maldonado’s death did not appear to rally the Argentine left as some had predicted.
Macri‘s strong performance, particularly in the largest provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, and Cordoba, was a spectacular triumph for a president who has dealt with a fair amount of opposition to his agenda in Congress. All eyes were on the Senate seats in Buenos Aires province, where Kirchner faced off against Macri’s candidate, former education minister Esteban Bullrich. Kirchner and allies posted disappointing results last night, and Bullrich bested the populist Kirchner by more than 4 points.
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However, Kirchner’s second place finish was still sufficient to give her a Senate seat, which grants her immunity from prosecution. Her administration and key allies have been involved in numerous probes into corruption, money laundering, and even the murder of government prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was due to present damning evidence regarding collusion between Kirchner and Iran, and then was found dead in his apartment under suspicious circumstances.
Kirchner, in typical fashion, sought to be the center of attention, launching her own political movement that divided the opposition, and will ultimately work to Macri’s advantage. Macri’s party greatly expanded its numbers in both chambers of Congress, while Kirchner and her erstwhile allies in the Peronist party, divided the opposition vote. Nationwide, Macri’s party received 42% of the vote, while Kirchner clocked in with 20% and the Peronist party received a paltry 16%.
However, Macri may in fact be delighted to have Kirchner as the de facto leader of a weakened and divided opposition. His hand has never looked stronger, and pundits and prognosticators now believe he has paved the way for reelection in 2017. Kirchner, on the other hand, emerges as a figurehead, but whose ability to shape the nation’s public policy appears significantly curtailed.