Can broad be deep?
Tuesday’s launch of the Broad Front-UNEN alliance has to be hailed as a positive development, if only because of its potential to win next year’s elections, thus making democratic politics more competitive (and entertaining). Yet an alliance spanning almost the entire spectrum (except the extremes of right and left and any important Peronist representative) faces serious challenges even ahead of defining a campaign platform — especially a leadership deficit to bring into line the Radicals (both conservative and progressive, urban and rural), the Socialists, ex-Kirchnerites and Elisa Carrió, whose ideology undergoes sea-changes from time to time. Too much variety even ahead of entering into the obsessive debate over whether to include City Mayor Mauricio Macri’s centre-right PRO. This ideological variety need not disqualify the new team — just look at two decades of coalition success in Chile and the wide range of understanding the left inside France’s Socialist Party while a Kirchnerism whose leaders range from the Communist Party to the moderate conservative Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli and human rights advocates (with feudal strongmen in the hinterland) can hardly throw stones.
Yet in a presidential democracy leadership is central and it was striking on Tuesday evening that there were so many leaders on the stage that no speeches were possible — otherwise they would still be talking as these lines are being written. The Broad Front-UNEN will first have to pass the hurdle of next year’s PASO primaries without splintering into four or five fragments and if it avoids that peril, it could be by finding a leader who is much better at humouring the sore losers than at appealing to the electorate. Even surmounting these problems is no guarantee — Fernando de la Rúa won both primaries and election in 1999, only to fail dismally as president. It would be unfair to assume that this new line-up is doomed to repeat the experience of De la Rúa’s Alliance but it would take a leader of at least the stature of the late Raúl Alfonsín to make Broad Front-UNEN more than a fleeting success.
Leadership is central but it is not everything — if Néstor and Cristina Kirchner spoke in their time of “recovering politics,” the Broad Front-UNEN leaders would do well to remember that politics is made in the street, the community centres, committee-rooms, social networks, universities, public offices and at the grass-roots, not only in television studios.