December 19, 2013
Vote again and again
Is it time to feel a little queasy about what lies ahead for Argentina politically? Between now and 2015 there’ll be little time to breathe easy. The ruling Victory Front coalition lost the primaries on August 11 in most major districts, including Buenos Aires City, Buenos Aires province, Córdoba and Santa Fe. When a ruling party loses an election in Argentina what lies ahead is unpredictability. Yes, ironically, August’s result makes the outcome of the official October 27 midterm vote very predictable. It’s highligly likely that the Victory Front will lose again in all the places it bit the dust last month. There could be slight alterations in the result due to developments in specific provinces. Take the case of Córdoba, where the anti-Kirchnerite Peronist Governor José Manuel de la Sota is now enduring a crisis after the provincial police top brass faced accusations of drug trafficking. Córdoba has also been hit by brush fires. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is at odds with De la Sota, has visited the disaster area in Córdoba. The president’s Victory Front won about 10 percent of the vote in Córdoba last month. De la Sota’s candidates won the primary contest. But it’ll be interest to watch the outcome of the vote in Córdoba in October to see if its specific crisis has altered the local political landscape. Still, such swings in mood will not change the core result, according to polls.
Tigre Mayor Sergio Massa, CFK‘s former Cabinet chief now leading an opposition Peronist coalition called the Renewal Front, defeated the Victory Front in Buenos Aires province, the nation’s largest district. Massa is the favourite to again win next month over Lomas de Zamora Mayor Martín Insaurralde, the candidate handpicked by the president to head the FpV ticket to the Lower House of Congress in Buenos Aires province.
Many things were revealed after the votes were counted on the night of August 11. For one, Fernández de Kirchner is now not expected to make a move to reform the Constitution to seek a third consecutive term in office. The president has never said in public that she had plans to stay in office after the end of her second mandate in 2015. But had the Victory Front, which counting allies garnered 30.9 percent of the vote in August, performed well then a re-election bid by CFK could not be ruled out. There will be no such re-election bid. Here’s the message of last month’s primary for you: the midterm vote in October is predictable. Everything that will come after that is unpredictable. The presidential race of 2015 is now wide open and with many candidates, from different political groups, ready to put up a challenge with Fernández de Kirchner out of the race.
Expect Massa to start behaving like a presidential candidate if he wins Buenos Aires province again in October. Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, the leader of the centre-right party PRO, has also announced that he will run for president in 2015. Macri’s party needs to win Buenos Aires City in October for its leader not to be humiliated. Polls show that PRO is leading the race for Senator in Buenos Aires City. But the race for the Lower House seats is tighter with Elisa Carrió, of the centrist coalition UNEN, now closing in on PRO. UNEN is a new coalition that nationwide could eventually include the presidential bids of Carrió, former Santa Fe governor Hermes Binner (a leader of the Socialist Party), and Julio Cobos, a Radical now in the opposition who served as CFK’s vice-president between 2007-2011.
The Radical party itself has a large machine nationwide. The Radical incumbent, Governor Ricardo Colombi, was re-elected in Corrientes province on Sunday. Colombi defeated the Victory Front candidate Carlos Espínola, the outgoing Corrientes City mayor. The Victory Front won in Corrientes City. There was an outside chance that Espínola, a former Olympic yachting medallist who enjoyed the backing of the president, would score an upset win in Corrientes province. But there were no surprises on Sunday. The election was won by Colombi, who was once a Radical on excellent terms with the Kirchnerite administration. The Radical Party, after Corrientes, is also now bragging that it has a pretty good chance of ruling Argentina once again come 2015.
You’ve probably noticed by now that Argentina probably has too many presidential candidates for its own good. A two-party system Argentina is not at the moment. The president, by most accounts, will not run in 2015. But will the Victory Front field its own presidential candidate? Contenders in the Kirchnerite camp include Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, a moderate, and Sergio Urribarri, the ultra-Kirchnerite governor of Entre Ríos province.
The result on the night of October 27 will still explain many things. Fernández de Kirchner’s Victory Front needs to hold its ground when the time comes to vote next month. The Victory Front is still in control of Congress. But already there is speculation that it could struggle to muster quorum to approve the extension of the check tax. The Victory Front will have to deal with the prospect of many defections if it, say, does not win more votes in October than it did last month.
Congress, in another test for the Victory Front, must also approve the 2014 budget bill. Fernández de Kirchner, speaking at a rally in the Ezeiza district on Friday, urged the opposition to approve the budget. The budget, she said, it not for the president. It is needed by Argentines in general, she said. The president’s comments could be a sign that the ruling coalition is no longer capable of fully controlling Congress, even ahead of the October vote.
The president has also made many strategic changes after the defeat last month. Kirchnerite candidates are now granting interviews to news outlets owned by the media group Clarín. The president’s candidates in Buenos Aires province, for instance, have agreed to debate with rival candidates on the news channel TN, which is owned by Clarín. The president last Saturday granted an interview to a pro-government journalist, Hernán Brienza, on state television. The second part of the interview will be aired by state television tonight.
According to many observers Massa won the primary in Buenos Aires province vowing to fight crime. Crime control has always been a latent issue. But now it seems to be dominating the campaign. Insaurralde, in a sign that he is trying to be his own man, has championed a reform of legislation to deal with juvenile delinquents and has said he favours lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 14. Insaurralde’s reform prompted a debate in the Victory Front, and it is still not clear whether it will be fully embraced by the ultra-Kirchnerites. Another significant change after the primaries is the appointment of Ezeiza Mayor Alejandro Granados as Buenos Aires province Security minister by Scioli. Scioli has decided to split the Justice and Security Minister into two separate portfolios. Granados, the tough-talking mayor of Ezeiza dubbed by some as the “sheriff,” is the new head of the Security ministry.
Fernández de Kirchner stood by Granados at a rally in Ezeiza on Friday. But there was no tough-talk on crime by the president herself. Instead Fernández de Kirchner hurled veiled criticism at the United States, which is in the middle of a diplomatic crisis with Brazil over spying allegations. Fernández de Kirchner also declared that Latin America will resist what she described as attempts to bring back neoliberal economic policies.
Is anybody listening? There is every chance that the vote next month will turn Fernández de Kirchner into a vulnerable lame duck. But the opposition also won the midterm elections in 2009, including in Buenos Aires province. Fernández de Kirchner’s personal popularity rating stands at 40 percent, which is not that bad. The opposition will have to get its calculating right after October. The opposition in general launched a fierce offensive against the president after 2009. But that decision turned out to be a miscalculation. Néstor Kirchner, the president’s late husband, died suddenly of a heart attack in 2010. A year later Fernández de Kirchner was re-elected president with 54 percent of the votes. History rarely repeats itself. There’s little chance that the Victory Front, without CFK as a candidate, will win again in 2015. But what if the president’s popularity increases as she bows out? Still, Fernández de Kirchner’s administration is likely to face street demonstrations before the end of the year if it loses in October.
Already the Kirchnerite grip on power feels looser. A judge has indicted Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno, the government’s draconian price watcher,
for abusing authority in a case filed by a private agency that was fined for reporting on the inflation rate. Moreno has accused Massa of orchestrating his indictment by Judge Claudio Bonadio, who allegedly had ties to the neoconservative Peronist administration in the 90s.
The political turbulence will take on many forms after October. A number of key transport trade unions, including the railway engine drivers and the teamsters, now oppose the CFK administration and are in the mood to protest. Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo on Thursday locked horn with the engine drivers union after a sudden strike was called over medical checkups. The union, which is at odds with Randazzo over reforms after a number of ugly commuter train crashes, was specifically demanding for the workers’ checkups to be carried out by doctors and not nurses. But the argument between the opposition trade unions and the national government could be about many other things.