December 5, 2013
Room for debate
A televised political debate should not be something extraordinary even when it is more than worth covering and running it as front page news. Yet Argentina has suffered from a shortage of such debates as confrontations among its political factions increased in the past decade (and even before that). It is almost gospel that a frontrunner in any race here, including the presidential one, will shun a debate in order to protect his/her lead by avoiding the risk of making any mistakes live on television. Yet voters themselves make a bigger mistake by not holding candidates accountable, whether they are frontrunners or not, for not being open to discussing policies and issues in the first place. When candidates do agree to debate the republic feels more democratic. Wednesday night’s televised debate between the three leading contenders for the Lower House of Congress in Buenos Aires City was refreshing. Sergio Bergman of the centre-right party PRO, Elisa Carrió of the centrist coalition UNEN and Juan Cabandié of the Kirchnerite Victory Front, regardless of their personal performances on the night, all ended up winning because now voters have a fuller impression of who they are. In a way, all three are now also better candidates because they have delivered on the premise that democracy is at its best when rivals, often bitter ones, are able to speak to one another and can discuss ideas without throwing punches under the belt.
Buenos Aires City has seen more than its fair share of debates since Argentina returned to democracy, compared to the rest of the nation and presidential races. The three main senatorial candidates for this city are also scheduled to debate. But there is no such debate scheduled in Buenos Aires province where the frontrunner, the rebel Peronist Sergio Massa, who is now at odds with the national government, and the Kirchnerite candidate Martín Insaurralde have not reached an agreement. A debate scheduled for this week, which
Massa was never going to attend, was cancelled by Insaurralde to the complaints of his nearest rivals: the centre-right Peronist Francisco de Narváez and UNEN’s Margarita Stolbizer.
It’s tempting to predict that Wednesday night’s fruitful debate will usher in a new era of debates, and on more than just one television channel. But for now, if candidates don’t lose votes for refusing to debate, that’s just wishful thinking.