Peronism needs to recover from a tsunami. Alberto Fernández’s government has two months to try to reverse in the legislative elections the result of the mandatory and open primaries held on Sunday, which anticipated that the government, if the result is repeated, will lose control of the Senate and will no longer have the largest caucus in the Chamber of Deputies. The pre-candidates of the Frente de Todos lost in 18 of the country’s 24 districts, including the province of Buenos Aires, the stronghold of Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. President Fernández has pledged to listen to the message from the polls and “correct mistakes,” while the coalition that supports him is now debating whether to radicalize or change course. On Monday there was talk of changes in the ministerial cabinet. Fernández seems unwilling to give in: the morning after the vote, he organized an event at Casa Rosada where he put the most questioned individuals in his government in the front row.
The PASO (an acronym for “open, simultaneous and mandatory primaries”), as the primaries in Argentina are called, serve to measure the candidacies of different forces and remove those that do not exceed 1.5% of the votes out of the way. The minimum quota strengthens the chances of the two great coalitions that have dominated Argentine politics since the return to democracy nearly four decades ago. The Peronism considered progressive (Kirchnerism dominates this space) and different social groups and movements coalesce on the left. The other pole brings together right-wing Peronism, liberal and neoliberal leaders and the remnants of the Radical Civic Union (UCR), the party that in 1983 brought Raúl Alfonsín to power after the end of the last military dictatorship. PASO does not define positions, but, as voting is mandatory, they serve as a portrait of what can be expected in the final battle. In this case, the race ends on November 14, when a third of the Senate and half of the Chamber of Deputies will be renewed.
Not even in its worst nightmares did the government expect an outcome like Sunday. Adding the votes in all the provinces and in the federal capital, the Together for Change coalition, which led Mauricio Macri to the presidency in 2015, opened almost 10 points of advantage over a Peronism that, for the first time, was united on a single front. Behind the defeat are economic, political and, of course, the pandemic.
“The data were not read well,” says Lara Goyburu, a political scientist at the University of Buenos Aires and a member of the Political Scientists Network. The result was that “structural problems that have been dragging on for years, linked to employment, access to housing, poverty and inflation, were not resolved. so much in 2019 [quando Fernández foi eleito] as in 2021 there is dissatisfaction with the entire political class. Now it is a matter of expectations, because in 2019 the vote went to those who promised to improve, and the pandemic is no longer a pretext for not stabilizing the variables of microeconomics”, he says. Sergio Morresi, a political scientist at the Universidade do Litoral, in Santa Fe, says that “the official decision, due to the economic crisis, not to promote an expansion policy ended up not fitting well in the electoral base of the government”. For Lucia Vincent, from San Martín University, on Sunday there was “a vote of irritation” with various causes, “both those who needed to close their micro-business and those who could not look after the dead in the family while the president celebrated the first lady’s birthday in the official residence”, he says. “Partly the government was responsible, and in part it was the catastrophe of the pandemic,” he adds.
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Monday was a day of complaints against the president, who on Sunday personally assumed defeat as the sole speaker on election night. Kirchnerism’s toughest wing has criticized the economic direction in the media, while pressure is mounting on Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero and Economy Minister Martin Guzmán. Both are Alberto Fernández’s trusted men, who do not like the ranks of the former president and current vice president. Silent, at least so far, has been Sergio Massa, president of the Chamber of Deputies and the third force in the Frente de Todos. Peronism unites them, but they clash in terms of forms. Therefore, the debate is now about “radicalizing” or “changing the course” to recover those who in 2019 supported Fernández against Mauricio Macri and this time stayed at home, voted for the left or even supported Javier’s far-right ideas. Milei, a character who gained space, especially among younger people, thanks to the screams, insults and the many free hours of television in political programs.
two months of all or nothing
The Government now has two months to campaign and prevent the PASO result from being repeated in the Legislatures. “There is time to improve something that was really bad,” says Morresi. “They will have to do politics, but it is necessary to see what diagnosis they make, and whether or not they are going to radicalize. Many leaders ask to ‘go deeper’, but I don’t think that will work for them”, he says. “Radicalization”, adds Lara Goyburu, “did not serve Kirchnerism neither in 2012, nor in 2015 nor in 2017. There was a learning of moderation and unity, this is not the day to ask for moderation, but I believe they will make a more moderate reading ” of what happened. Luzia Vincent agrees that Peronism still has time to revert Sunday’s figures. “They may not be repeated”, he observes, and “the Government has a chance of recovering votes. It is possible that the PASO was a warning, and that at the definitive moment people opt for a safer vote”, he says.
If Peronism ends up losing control of the Senate and becomes the second force in the House, as Sunday’s result anticipates, Argentina will have a governability problem. It will not be the best scenario to face a negotiation with the IMF, a crisis that does not subside and the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
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