EspañolThis Sunday, Argentina will hold a new election, after the primaries took place in August (“Primarias Abiertas Simultáneas y Obligatorias,” PASO). They were the initial step towards a place in the National Congress; now, Argentineans vote to renew the seats of 127 representatives and 24 senators, among other legislative offices in 10 of the 24 provinces.
The primaries mentioned above took place simultaneously in all districts and included all political parties. Candidates needed at least 1.5 percent of the valid votes in their district to run and compete in their general election. At the same time, primaries allowed constituents to choose specific candidates to represent each political party, where there were several candidates competing inside the same party.
The primaries conducted in August were the second elections of this type to take place in Argentina, since a new law passed in 2009. This new electoral system is still just starting to impact the organization of the parties, so in some cases the results hardly change or reflect what will come of the general elections. While few expect important disparities or swings relative to the August outcomes, however, these general elections will be critical to the reorganization of Argentina’s political forces.
Peronism and Buenos Aires Province
Just a few months before the elections, Sergio Massa decided to be a candidate in the province of Buenos Aires. His decision divided the Peronist movement — for the past decade led by former President Néstor Kirchner and after his death by his wife, President Cristina Fernández, from the Frente para la Victoria party (FPV).
Massa is mayor of Tigre and former chief of secretaries of the current government. Without defining clearly his positions relative to the ruling party, he has attracted the attention of voters dissatisfied with Kirchner. He has done so by emphasizing his management capacity and the need to resolve the two issues that concern the middle class: crime and inflation. He also recently founded a new party, the Frente Renovador para la Concordia (FR), and competed in Buenos Aires against several Peronista representatives and Mauricio Macri’s Propuesta Republicana (PRO), plus some defectors from other parties.
Buenos Aires, the province, is the place where historically the Peronista movement has fought the elections. Together with the City of Buenos Aires (CABA), the province has the most contentious political districts, given the number of people living there. For example, 27 percent of the House of Representatives is composed of Buenos Aires members; another 10 percent come from CABA; and the remaining 63 percent is divided among the other 22 districts of the country.
Yes, Buenos Aires is the traditional Peronista battlefield, and sometimes, the term “battlefield” is a literal. A month ago, a group of Kirchner supporters ambushed and attacked Massa while he was visiting La Matanza — an historic Peronista quarter inside Buenos Aires. The balance was three wounded.
The competition is clear: the mayor leads the opposition vote in Buenos Aires, seven points clear of the FPV candidate, Martin Insaurralde. Both Peronist groups together are set to occupy over 73 percent of the vote in the province, where 35 members of the 127 seats face reelection.
City of Buenos Aires: Home for the Opposition
UNEN was the only political group in the city that held a real primary election in August, electing the candidates who are running on Sunday — and this approach seriously affects the results. Not all of those who voted for one of their four primary candidates will give their vote to the only winner who proceeded from the primary. Perhaps that is because voters are not yet accustomed to internal elections; the candidates who lost their primaries did not express their support for the winners; and the wide range of ideologies that the alliance represents for many voters.
This UNEN splintering problem seems to be more evident among Senate candidates than for the Chamber of Deputies. Elisa Carrio and Martin Lousteau, who are UNEN Deputies candidates, are on track to reach 33 percent of the votes, less than the 35 percent won by the four primary candidates in August. In the Senate, PRO is set to win two of three seats, but the third remains contended between Daniel Filmus (FPV) and Pino Solanas (UNEN).
In the primaries, Filmus obtained 378,594 votes, while Solanas obtained only 252,406. However, both candidates have been fluctuating around 25 percent now. Voter intentions seem to vary constantly according to certain situations that took place just days before the election. Consider Juan Cabandie’s video (FPV), where he insults a police officer, or the recent train accident. A Filmus win in this seat is essential for Kirchnerism, though, considering that without it the government may not be able to reach quorum in the Senate.
If all UNEN voters were to accept the primary victories of Carrio and Solanas and continue to vote with this alliance, Solanas would win his place in the Senate. In this scenario, UNEN would even have a chance to win two Senate seats. However, the diversity of ideologies the alliance represents and the figure of Solanas — controversial as a Chavista and because he has voted for some unpopular government projects in recent years — will lead many UNEN voters to change their votes in favor of other candidates.
The Coming Congress
The current scenario echoes a similar one that occurred during the 2009 legislative elections. That year, the Acuerdo Cívico y Social (Civic and Social Agreement), a former alliance of the major opposition parties, and the “Union PRO” (another opposition party, led by Francisco de Narvaez) managed a major presence in the National Congress. The atmosphere was similar to today, and for many the defeat of Kirchnerism began. However, the opposition does not have the capacity to win the election with the same numbers as it did in 2009.
“This election will be identical and yet completely different from the 2009 election,” Facundo Cruz argues, a doctoral fellow and political science instructor at Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA).
“It will be identical in that the situation presents a weak government, a strong opposition in some important districts, and the possibility of not having a result as good as in the previous presidential election.”
One should remember that in 2007 Kirchner won the presidential election with over 40 percent of the vote. However, in 2009 she suffered defeat in the legislative elections. Two years later she managed to regain a governing majority with 54 percent of voters, a number which FPV is not going to reach on Sunday’s election, thus repeating the ebb and flow of history.
At the same time, the end of the Kirchner cycle has begun, and a rejuvenation of the party may now be possible, unlike in 2009.
“In the 2009 elections, when all members took office in December, attention was on the good performance of the non-Peronista opposition and how their votes could become parliamentary power,” Cruz continues. “Now, Cristina cannot compete for a third term, but also now the focus is not on the non-Peronista opposition but on the Peronista group, which is beginning to oppose the ‘official Peronism’ now in the national government. All of them think Massa will win, and they are already thinking about what to do, because it is starting a renewal within the party.”
Cruz suggests that the distribution of seats the day after the elections will have minor importance: the important outcome will be Massa’s decisions from here to December, when the various alliances will come together and take office. Many deputies will be elected with the FPV list, but Cruz believes that “if Massa starts building his alliances from here to December, the deputies representing the provinces could be integrated into Massa’s political party by December. There have already been some deputies who have made this change, but most of them have hidden plans. That’s because after 2009, there was no choice, since President Fernandez still had the possibility of being reelected — and also because De Narvaez was not able to build a national alliance, outside Buenos Aires. Massa is different because he can: there is possibility of renewal outside the district.”
Both Peronista and non-Peronista political sectors are conducting their behavior based on this fact: the Kirchner cycle is ending, and there is no possibility of amending the Constitution. Their actions have nothing to do with a 2012 full of protests against the government or the climate of economic crisis denied by Fernandez. It is the simple confidence that President Cristina Fernandez will not be able to renew her mandate for a third time. The political forces are regrouping in order to define her successor. The party which begins now to build alliances across the country, avoiding the mistakes of the opposition after 2009 elections, will probably be the alternative option for 2015.