March 7, 2014
When I’m 64%
Anywhere but in Santiago del Estero would the triumph of governor-elect Claudia Ledesma Abdala de Zamora be a landslide by any standards — a total of 64 percent almost 50 percent ahead of anybody else looks (and is) awesome but still trails the 73 percent garnered by outgoing Governor Gerardo Zamora’s Civic Front only five weekends previously in nationwide midterm elections, not to mention the 85 percent of Zamora’s own 2009 re-election. The difference between Sunday and the previous results should be seen as the political price paid for Zamora running an inexperienced spouse after the national Supreme Court quashed his bid for an unconstitutional third term. Yet Sunday’s result remains a crushing win for personalized politics because party lines are meaningless — Zamora is a Radical in a coalition with Peronists and is staunchly loyal to the Victory Front at national level yet his wife’s rivals included a Radical (outgoing Senator Emilio Rached with 14 percent), a Peronist (La Banda Mayor Héctor Chabay Ruiz, now a stalking-horse for Sergio Massa, with 11 percent) and the Victory Front (ex-governor César Iturre with four percent, which means Sunday’s Kirchnerite vote was at least 68 percent). But then Santiago del Estero has long been a law unto itself — where else could you find somebody governing a province before either of the Kirchners were born and still running it at the start of this century (the late five-term Peronist governor Carlos Juárez)?
Yet perhaps the main interest here is not Santiago del Estero and its past but the nation as a whole and its present and future — especially its federalism. Sunday was an extreme example of just how electorally successful unconditional loyalty to the national government in exchange for funding public works and social handouts can be (some 100 billion pesos poured into the province in the Zamora years) and yet it comes at a time of new strains for this system — many governors are already worrying about Christmas bonuses and the new season of collective bargaining is set to begin with the teachers (always highly sensitive for provinces). The current trends might seem highly beneficial to the central government as it imposes dependence on the provinces, yet it also means that governors, with minimal revenues of their own, can irresponsibly embark on electioneering sprees and then look to the national government to pick up the bill.
Perhaps the national fiscal deficit is already reaching a scale when it might make sense to grant the provinces fuller revenue autonomy and then expect them to live off their own.