Neither the most pessimistic within the government, nor the most adverse polls for the Casa Rosada, predicted the electoral beating that the government of Argentine President Alberto Fernández took at the Simultaneous and Mandatory Open Primary (Paso), held last Sunday to elect the candidates who will compete for seats in the Chamber and Senate in the legislative elections on November 14th.
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It was the worst election for united Peronism — in many moments, after the country’s redemocratization in 1983, the movement fragmented — since the 1997 legislative elections, in the final stretch of Carlos Menem’s government (1989-1999). In the words of Ignácio Labaqui, professor at the Catholic University of Argentina (UCA), the country was the scene of a wave of national punishment against the administration of Fernández and his vice president, Cristina Kirchner.
The ruling alliance Frente de Todos took first place in just six of Argentina’s 24 electoral districts (23 provinces and the country’s capital), being defeated even in the province of Buenos Aires, where a third of the national electorate lives and where Cristina had, so far, its most faithful political fief.
— A tie in the province of Buenos Aires was already a bad scenario, but that the united Peronism would lose was something that nobody imagined — affirms Labaqui.
The main candidate of the ruling alliance in the country’s most important province, Victoria Tolosa Paz, said on Monday that the government received “a slap in the face”. On Sunday night, Fernández admitted that “evidently we made mistakes” and assured that “nothing is more important than listening to the people, when the people express themselves is a fact that we take very seriously”. At his side was Cristina, who remained silent.
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On Monday, amidst a flurry of criticism of the government and with markets on the rise for the good result achieved by the opposition alliance Together for Change, the chief of staff, Santiago Cafiero, emphasized that “governability is not at stake. We are committed to listen to the message from the ballot boxes”.
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The primaries are held to elect the candidates who will run for the legislative ones. This year, half of the Chamber and a third of the Senate will be renewed. What this electoral essay shows is a trend, as it is a mandatory vote, in which Argentines anticipate their preferences. Participation was around 68%, just a little below the 72% achieved in the primaries prior to the 2017 legislative ones.
If the result is confirmed at the polls in November, the ruling Frente de Todos could lose six senators — and, with that, control of the House — and nine deputies. The Frente de Todos (coalition between Peronists and Kirchnerists) has 120 seats in the Chamber, out of a total of 257, and its goal in November was to keep 52 and, in the best case — now totally discarded — to expand its bench to achieve a majority (129 votes).
The opposition, which now has 115 deputies, hoped to preserve the 60 seats won in the 2017 legislatives and now dreams of expanding its bench. In the Senate, which has 72 members, the government, currently with 41 seats, needs to renew 15, but could only preserve 9. The opposition alliance, in turn, which now has 25 senators, will manage to renew nine and possibly increase its presence in the house presided over by Cristina.
— The government suffered an electoral beating, losing in many districts governed by the Frente de Todos alliance. In the Senate, he should negotiate to approve projects and in the Chamber he will be in a more difficult situation – explains Carlos Fara, director of Fara e Associados.
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What explains this wave of national punishment? Several reasons, including the very serious economic crisis (in 2020, GDP plummeted 10%), the deterioration of the social situation (the official poverty rate is 44%, but economists estimate that the real is close to 50%), the mismanagement of the pandemic (the country already has 113,000 dead) and scandals involving even the president and the first lady, who celebrated a birthday party in the midst of the pandemic and while the Casa Rosada demanded strict measures of social isolation from the population.
Among the opponents, one of the main winners was the head of government of the city of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. Its candidates took first place in the capital and in the province of Buenos Aires, a result that transforms Larreta into a new consolidated leadership in Juntos pela Transforma, with a clear project to run for the presidency in 2023.