December 11, 2013
Can the left dream of returning to Congress?
After nationwide surprise election in the primaries
Although out of the spotlight, several leftist parties surprised by showing a strong base of support during last week’s primaries. Once the definitive vote count ends, the Workers’ Leftist Front (FIT) led by Jorge Altamira will have reached some 890,000 votes nationwide, almost doubling its performance in the 2011 presidential election. Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires City, Claudio Lozano’s Camino Popular and the Autodeterminación y Libertad party led by Luis Zamora will also have broadly surpassed the threshold of votes needed to reach the October elections.
What is happening to the Argentine left?
“I think any illusion that the national government makes up a progressive force has disappeared,” FIT candidate Christian Castillo told the Herald. “The YPF-Chevron deal, the appointment of General César Milani and the protection given to corrupt officials like (former Transport secretary Ricardo) Jaime have made that clear.”
Usually accustomed to being a marginal group with less than one percent of the vote, the electoral seal that groups the Workers’ Party (PO), the Socialist Workers Party (PTS) and the Socialist Left (IS) received more than five percent backing in eight provinces, including Córdoba and Mendoza — where candidate Nicolás del Caño ended up third, over traditional forces like the one led by former governor Roberto Iglesias and the Democratic Party.
The front did not just perform well in the City and in Buenos Aires province — where, if they repeat the PASO results, they will be able to get into the Lower House — but also in Salta, where one out of nine citizens voted for it. Jujuy (9 percent of the votes), Santa Cruz (7.9 percent), Neuquén (6.7 percent) and Río Negro (6.3 percent) were also considered good results by FIT.
At one polling station —number 1087 in Salta’s capital city — the left even managed to beat the rest of the “bourgeois” parties by achieving 30.5 percent of the votes.
‘Thank you, primaries’?
Left-wing parties have largely criticized the broad 2009 electoral reform for being prohibitive. The results from the last primaries, however, could illustrate Argentine anti-capitalist political fronts benefited from the measure sponsored by the national government with support from the Radical Civic Union (UCR), because it forced them to leave aside their differences in order to survive.
Starting in 2011, any party must obtain 1.5 percent support in the primary to run in the general election. In previous elections, leftist forces seemed to focus their energies more on infighting that winning votes and presented a wide array of parties that regularly received less than one percent support — leading to a loss of all the seats won in 1999 and 2001.
But now this is the third time the FIT runs for Congress under this electoral seal — with the same visible leaders (Altamira and Castillo).
Altamira, however, insists that the main factor explaining their relative success is the general political and economic situation.
“From an objective point of view, the cause was the widespread discontent among workers and youngsters,” the candidate for the Lower House told the Herald. “But the impasse reached by the government and the political system, due to the exhaustion of the economic process also played a role.”
Lozano seeks UNEN’s votes
In Buenos Aires City, two other forces besides FIT reached the threshold and will be running in October: Camino Popular, the front headed by economist and former Broad Progressive Front (FAP) figurehead Claudio Lozano, and Autodeterminación y Libertad, a small party led by human rights activist Luis Zamora.
Lozano obtained 2.5 percent of the votes in his race for Senate.
“We’re glad we made it through the primaries after setting up our party in only 60 days,” Lozano said to the Herald.
Only seven parties out of 24 forces running in the City reached the threshold — including the three leftist options. Lozano is well aware of that fact. “There are votes inside the UNEN front (that won in the City) that we could capture in October,” he explained. Until recently, the economist was an ally of centre-left figurehead Fernando “Pino” Solanas. But all that changed when Solanas decided to join forces with centre-right lawmaker Elisa Carrió for the midterms.
Zamora still running
“I think we did pretty well considering our extremely low-budget campaign,” lawyer Luis Zamora explained. “The most important result in the City was achieved by FIT, which is a more traditional leftist party, but I think it’s a good sign that our force, which strives to be a self-organized anti-capitalist force, also passed the threshold imposed by the PASO.”
According to Zamora, the 3.3 percent mustered in the primaries (some 62,000 votes) allows the party to dream not just about winning a seat in the Lower House in October, but also of entering the City Legislature.
Other parties, such as the Nuevo MAS led by Héctor “Chino” Heberling and the Nueva Izquierda front headed by city lawmaker Alejandro Bodart, did not surpass the PASO threshold and won’t be around on October 27.
Some of those votes may go to Autodeterminación y Libertad, Zamora said.
But as the new law forbids changes in the already-registered political alliances before the general election, the three remaining forces will have to share the leftist vote in the City. “We wouldn’t be merging anyway, we stand for completely different things,” Lozano concluded.