May 25, 2013
Thursday’s nationwide massive protest (quite possibly exceeding the million-plus election rallies at the climax of the return to democracy in 1983 and thus a record) transforms the build-up to the crucial voting now less than a year away. If the 2013 polls were a presidential election, the situation would be surprisingly similar to last year given the continuing opposition inability to offer a constructive alternative but since the only positive vote is for congressional candidates with a negative reaction to the national situation as valid as a constructive one, the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration might well be heading towards a replay of its 2009 midterm debacle or worse.
Quantitatively, the protest was undeniably impressive with anything more precise impossible to calculate. When one of the two main anti-government newspapers calculated the Olivos demonstration at 30,000 and the other at 60,000 without even comparing the clashing figures across the ideological divide, the oceanic margin of error becomes clear. It is not just a question of estimating from overhead shots because crowd turnover was also a factor — if that turnover was high enough (and banging a saucepan is not that thrilling an activity, once the initial point has been made), City Mayor Mauricio Macri’s otherwise wild figure of two million people nationwide might even be valid. When yesterday’s editorial (written ahead of the event) suggested that the protest might already be thinking beyond blocking a third CFK term, we were both completely wrong and dead right. At one level, the march was overwhelmingly anti-government in tone with current grievances over crime, inflation, corruption, etc. uppermost. But precisely because the focus was so much on highly specific and eminently practical problems begging a solution, the protest was basically alien to the polarization tearing the political world apart with no particular ideology — it was also mercifully peaceful with little more than one untoward incident. The fact that some government acolytes heaved a huge sigh of relief that the media law was not more prominent among the grievances shows just how much they are missing the point.
Never underestimate the power of the street as the key to a Kirchner government’s morale — whatever CFK’s pride in last year’s landslide, the true origins of the current dynasty do not lie in Néstor Kirchner’s 22 percent vote in 2003 but in the two picket deaths in mid-2002 prompting then president Eduardo Duhalde to yield power. CFK lost the street in 2008 and the vote in 2009 amid economic hard times — are we to see the same sequence repeated this year and next?