December 11, 2013
Today’s midterm elections mark the climax of a campaign which began the day after the August 11 PASO primaries. Began on that day but also ended, some might argue, because those primaries as a nationwide opinion poll have defined the broad lines of today’s voting just as surely as President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s absolute majority in the 2011 PASO primaries foretold her landslide re-election a couple of months later. The broad lines perhaps but today’s elections are by no means devoid of interest even though the top job is not directly at stake in an ultra-presidential democracy. In many cases two or three percent (a standard margin of error in even the most accurate opinion polls) could make a decisive difference, sometimes without even changing the order of candidates from the PASO voting. Thus within this city a very minor swing could serve to clinch an extremely tight race for the Senate minority seat but in Buenos Aires province as little as three percent without changing the result could make all the difference between the PASO winner peaking at a similar level or projecting into a 2015 presidential frontrunner.
The Buenos Aires province race has stolen most of the attention but in strictly quantitative terms it accounts for only 35 of the 127 Lower House seats at stake today (or 27.5 percent) and none of the 24 Senate seats. Nor should the rest of the country be considered the electoral property of mostly Peronist strongmen, as often in the past. Paradoxically enough, at a time when a record-low provincial percentage of federal revenue-sharing funds seems to leave inland provinces more vulnerable to the central government than ever, the crisis of regional economies led to some unusually volatile voting in August which is likely to be repeated today. Again, most eyes are on the City Senate race but the three Neuquén seats could have a much bigger impact on the balance of power in the Upper House.
Precisely because the PASO results opened up the 2015 presidential race by shattering the illusion of a third CFK term, much of the speculation has centred on where today’s voting will leave the three or four frontrunners but all those casting a ballot today should recall that they are voting for parliamentary representatives and also that the next Congress could play a crucial role in the lame-duck period which the August PASO also heralded. So today’s voting could be the chronicle of a result foretold but also the birth of a new phase in 30 continuous years of democracy.