December 8, 2013
Today’s midterm vote paves nation’s political road to 2015
Contest will also decide if Victory Front keeps control of Congress
Over 30 million out of Argentina’s 40 million residents are entitled to cast ballots today to renew half of the Lower House and a third of the Senate in a mid-term vote that a highly-fragmented opposition hopes will mark the beginning of the end for Kirchnerism and set the tone of the presidential race in 2015.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been absent from the political arena as she is recovering following a surgery earlier this month to remove a blood clot from the surface of her brain, and her uneasy ally, Buenos Aires Province Governor Daniel Scioli, has borne the burden of campaigning.
As usual, attention is focussed on Buenos Aires — a province housing 40 percent of Latin America’s third-largest economy’s population.
In Buenos Aires province, the president’s former Cabinet chief Sergio Massa has launched a dissident Renewal Front and is eyeing the 2015 presidential vote, after emerging as a victor in the August primaries.
Fernández de Kirchner was elected in 2007 and reelected in 2011 by an overwhelming 54 percent on the back of a “tsunami” of sympathy after her husband and predecessor Néstor Kirchner — who ruled Argentina with a steady hand from 2003 to 2007 — died in October 2010 of a cardiac arrest aged 60.
In May, although without mentioning him by name, the President publicly warned market-oriented Scioli not to take her “for an idiot” and to come out clearly in defence of their Victory Front (FpV) banners.
Scioli said he wants to succeed her in 2015, upsetting her followers in Congress who advocate a reform of the Constitution to allow her a possible third straight mandate. Massa, for his part, opposes a Constitutional amendment that, according to the opposition, the president had in mind to perpetuate her in power.
While being governor of Santa Cruz, Kirchner reformed the local charter and ruled the Patagonian province for 11 straight years before becoming president in the aftermath of Argentina’s worst economic crisis in history.
As usual in the country’s highly politicized environment, pundits talking to the Herald are at odds on the significance of the vote.
Rosendo Fraga, who is usually critical of the government, said that the FpV is heading toward a new defeat today although it may get more votes nationwide, “considering that it will lose in the crucial Buenos Aires province.” He added: “It will try to impose the interpretation that it has fared better that in the August primary, and will continue acting as if the defeat did not exist.”
Mario Serrafero, of the state-run CONICET think-tank, said: “This election will mark the beginning of the end of Kirchnerism and society at large, in the face of highly atomized opposition, can expect an alternative to Kirchnerism, but always within Peronism.”
However, Artemio López, a pro-government analyst and FpV supporter, said: “the beginning of the end of Kirchnerism? No way. This is the eighth election that the government will win at a national level in a string of victories without precedent in Argentine history.”
Fraga said that the vote will replicate the August primary trend and that Massa — the mayor of the Greater Buenos Aires district of Tigre — will win in Buenos Aires province by at least five points.
After the election, the President could be expected to appoint her staunch ally, Entre Ríos Governor Sergio Urribarri, Cabinet Chief to replace Juan Manuel Abal Medina, whose figure has been somewhat blurred. Fraga said that Urribarri is expected to clinch a clear-cut victory in Entre Ríos today.
It’s fair to ask why Scioli, who at times has been criticized in public by the Kirchners, should be bearing the burden of campaigning in favour of the woman he wants to replace.
“It is very simple,” Serrafero says. “He has no option. And Kirchnerism has no option either.”
“If Cristina lets go of his hand, he is finished, the province (which is plagued by crime) falls into chaos, and he cannot run for president. He could have taken distance before, but that should have been some time ago. Now, his image is attached to Kirchnerism.”
López, for his part, said: “this is Scioli’s second term as governor and he has to be a leading player. The vote result will clearly affect his chances as a presidential candidate. He couldn’t afford not to campaign.”
CFK ABSENCE, TRAIN CRASH & ‘CABANDIÉ EFFECT’
The analysts had also differing views on the possible influence of the president’s absence, the incident in which Juan Cabandié — who is running for national deputy for the FpV in Buenos Aires City — bullied a traffic agent and a train crash that injured at least 99 people last Saturday. The president’s health condition has favoured the FpV but, at the same time, the bad image of Vice-President Amado Boudou, “formally” in charge of the administration, the Cabandié incident and the new trains crash “are negative factors,” said Fraga. Serrafero agreed: “Initially, it seemed that the absence of the president from the campaign was going to be positive for her due to a ‘sympathy effect,’ but it has been offset by Boudou, Cabandié and the train crash.”
López disagreed: “those issues will have virtually no influence on the vote.”
FORCES IN CONGRESS
Fraga said that the FpV could lose three seats both in the Senate and in the Lower House, although, in both cases, with the support of allies, it would retain a tight quorum margin. López, asked about the possibility of a constitutional amendment to allow the president to run again, said: “That is too speculative to be answered. However, the FpV could maintain the majority in both houses of Congress and, with the backing of allies, it could attain special majorities. Qualified or special two-thirds majorities necessary to amend the Constitution.
IN THE NORTH
Fraga said that in the 19 districts accounting for the remaining 30 percent of the national votes (as opposed to the leading five accounting for the 70 percent), results will be somewhat more uneven for the FpV, which may improve in some of them as compared to the August primary result, but also fare worse in others.
Those districts include the poor, sparsely-inhabited northern provinces, some of which have been rocked by violent political clashes.
López said that the ruling coalition will win in the north albeit by a lesser margin than in August.
Serrafero said: “In August, the FpV did not fare well in Catamarca or Jujuy, and it obtained less votes than it was expecting in Formosa. It had a good performance in Tucumán (the stronghold of its staunch ally José Alperovich) but, in general terms, it did not fare well in the north, which has been one of its strongholds. And this is an additional indicator on top of its performance in the larger districts.”