Argentina’s Primary Parliamentary Elections (PASO)

Argentina’s Primary Parliamentary Elections (PASO)

Results of the parliamentary primary elections

On September 12, 2021, the Argentine Republic held their primary, open, simultaneous and mandatory elections (PASO in Spanish), the results of which determined the candidates who will compete in the general parliamentary elections on November 14, by: 127 of the 257 seats of the Chamber of Deputies, for a period of 4 years (2021-2025), and 24 of the 72 seats of the Chamber of Senators of the National Congress, for a period of 6 years (2021- 2027).

The polls materialized the negative perceptions toward the administration of President Alberto Fernández. Its two main political pieces: Victoria Tolosa Paz, in the province of Buenos Aires (PBA), and Leandro Santoro, in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (CABA), did not achieve their level of expected performance in two of the most important electoral districts of the country (PBA and CABA represent 45% of the Argentine electorate).

At the national level, the “punishment vote”, the “economic vote” (or the “pocket vote”) was also reflected. We might also call it a “disappointment vote”. The Frente de Todos (FDT), the party in power, lost in provinces with allied governments and those of a long Peronist tradition such as Chaco, Entre Ríos and San Luis. For its part, the opposition party, the rightwing “Juntos por el Cambio” (JxC) coalition prevailed in 17 of the 24 national districts. The FDT only obtained victories in 7 provinces of northern Argentina: Formosa, Salta, San Juan, Santiago del Estero, La Rioja and Tucumán, which are also the provinces with the lowest population density and therefore with the least number of voters.

Other equally negative results of these PASO are: 1) the consolidation of the mayor of the city of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta (JxC), as the new leader of the opposition, leaving Mauricio Macri behind, and achieving the national projection necessary to run for president in 2023, and 2) the advance of the extreme right represented in the figure of Javier Milei, from the Avanza Libertad party, from these PASO, the third political force in the capital of the country, behind the JxC and FDT.

Regarding the history of the previous contests, these have been cyclical and rotating between the alliances of Kirchnerism (K) and those of the Argentine right, until now led by Macri. In 2015, the then Frente por la Victoria (K) won both the PASO (primaries) and the general parliamentary elections; In 2017, the right (called at that time Cambiemos or “Let’s change”) did the same; in 2019, the Frente de Todos, prevailed strongly in the PASO, but in the last general elections (2019), it did not maintain that difference, and lost votes.

Looking ahead to the general elections of November 14, 2021, beyond the previous results, both in the PASO and in the general elections, it will be very difficult for the Frente de Todos to reverse these results. President Alberto Fernández said in his message to the people: “we heard the verdict of the people” and “from tomorrow we will take care of solving their problems and demands.” Certainly, it is possible that Kirchnerism will achieve some adjustments and rearrangements, some provincial alliances, but the general panorama appears quite difficult to reverse, perhaps impossible.

Post electoral balance

The post-electoral scenario in Argentina has been marked by internal and external confrontations to the Government of Alberto Fernández that have led to talk in the media of a crisis of governability or a crisis of representativeness, in general, based on the Argentine president’s lack of leadership. The opposition, as a whole, took advantage of the overwhelming results of the primaries (PASO) to point out the weakness of the government and continue advancing in the political sphere, heading for the presidential elections of 2023.

In that sense, the candidates of all the parties that do not make up the Frente de Todos (FDT) coalition, from the extreme right to the left, joined in criticizing the current administration of the Casa Rosada. Let us remember that in CABA the third political force is now the debuting far-right party “Avanza Libertad”, led by economist Javier Milei, and at the national level the third-party force is the Left Front-Unity (Frente de Izquierda de los Trabajadores-Unidad or FITU), led by Nicolás del Caño. These spaces joined with Juntos por el Cambios (JxC) to celebrate the victory of the opposition and to attack the FDT, Kirchnerism, the government, Alberto Fernández, Cristina Kirchner…

Crisis of the Frente de Todos

The day after the elections, Monday, September 13, began with an activity in which President Alberto Fernández (AF), together with the Minister of Productive Development, Matías Kulfas (AF), the Minister of Economy, Martín Guzmán (AF ), and the chief of staff, Santiago Cafiero (AF), presented the draft National Buy Law (no important official of Kirchnerism was present).

The peculiarity of the presidential event was that, less than 24 hours after the electoral results were announced, the Argentine president made no mention of the elections. From a sector of the media, this “political silence” was interpreted as a message to the Argentine citizenry that “the country does not stop and continues to function” or that “the government’s priorities are in production and in the national economy.”

On the other hand, and not only from the media, the “nothing has happened here” act by Fernández, was interpreted as a lack of leadership and ability to set the course that both the country and the Frente de Todos should take in order to reverse or cushion the blow of the very probable electoral failure of next November 14, when the general elections are to be held. In this sense, the political inaction of the Argentine president was quickly heating up the internal scene and breaking the unity of the Frente de Todos.

Charges available

On September 15, the heads of the Interior ministries, Eduardo de Pedro (K); Justice, Martín Soria (K); Science, Roberto Salvarezza (K); Culture, Tristán Bauer (K); and Environment, Juan Cabandié (K). As well as, the executive directors of two important institutions: the National Social Security Administration (ANSES), Fernanda Raverta (K) and the Comprehensive Medical Care Program for retirees and pensioners (PAMI), Luana Volnovich (K), respectively.

Following this path, the Secretary of Internal Trade, Paula Español (K), also presented their resignations to the Argentine president; the manager of national airlines Aerolíneas Argentinas, Pablo Ceriani (K); the Vice Minister of Justice, Juan Martín Mena (K); the Secretary of Human Rights, Horacio Pietragalla (K) and the head of the Matanza Riachuelo Basin Authority (ACUMAR), Martín Sabatella (K).

In this regard, the Minister of Territorial Development and Habitat, Jorge Ferraresi (K), said that “On Monday (09/13/21) by word of mouth in one way or another, all the ministers resigned,” while adding: “I think I am one of the closest to Cristina (Fernández de Kirchner) and the truth is that nobody told me what to do.”

However, from the Casa Rosada and from the Argentine Congress, this was seen “as pressure from the Kirchner wing to Alberto” to change the cabinet, starting with the head of Government, Santiago Cafiero (AF), the minister of productive development, Matías Kulfas (AF), the Minister of Economy, Martín Guzmán (AF) and the Minister of Security, Sabrina Frederic (K), among the most important Albertist officials. The Argentine press described this situation as a “political coup” by the vice president.

President Fernández’s tweets

On September 16, Alberto Fernández finally spoke in the political terms that many were waiting for. He did this on Twitter, and the messages were largely directed to the Frente de Todos:

“The government coalition must listen to the message of the polls and act with all responsibility. We must, and we will, to ensure that the needs of our people are met.”

“We have to give answers honoring the commitment assumed in December 2019, in the face of society. This is not the time to raise disputes that divert us from that path.”

“Our greatest challenge is to continue the reactivation process already begun, promote employment and guarantee the education and health of our people. In every action we take, in every decision, that must be our north.”

“I appreciate the support of governors, mayors, leaders of the labor movement and citizens at this time.”

“I value the gesture of the social organizations and of all those who expressed their affection for me by promoting a mobilization in my support.”

“Even so, I prefer that all that force that a mobilization of this magnitude implies be channeled to build the militant epic that helps Argentines to unravel the dilemma that is posed to us in November.”

“There are two models of a competing country that are being debated in these elections: the one that disbelieves in work and production and only promotes financial speculation, and the one that believes that with booming production we will recover the dignity of work for everyone.”

“I have heard my people. The arrogance does not nest in me. Government management will continue to develop in the way that I deem appropriate. That is what I was chosen for. I will do it by always calling the meeting between the Argentines.”

“As long as it does so, I will continue to guarantee the unity of the Frente de Todos based on the respect that we owe each other. It is time that our only obsession was to promote the prosperity of the men and women of our country.”

Letter from Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

Subsequently, Cristina Fernández, published a letter in which she expresses her reflections on the current Argentine political context, marked by electoral defeat.

The letter begins by saying “Once again I am addressing my compatriots as I have done on other occasions.” It does not contain disposable parts, and requires contextualization of each of its 20 paragraphs, as well as in depth analysis. However, here are some of the highlights:

“… I remember the act that took place in La Plata on December 18, 2020 (…). On that occasion I also pointed out: ‘that is why I say to all those who are afraid or who do not dare, please… there are other occupations besides being a minister, minister, legislator or legislature. Go and find another job, but we need people in the seats to act as minister, minister, legislator or legislature… be it to definitively defend the interests of the people’”.

“In the first 18 meetings, the last one on 09/07/2021, I always raised with the President what for me constituted a delicate social situation and which resulted, among other things, in salary arrears, lack of price control -especially in food and medicine- and lack of work, without ignoring, obviously, the impact of the two pandemics: the macrista first and the health one 99 days after taking office. Likewise, I always stressed the lack of effectiveness in different areas of government.”

“I also pointed out that I believed that a wrong fiscal adjustment policy was being carried out that was negatively impacting economic activity and, therefore, in society as a whole and that, undoubtedly, this was going to have electoral consequences. (…) The answer was always that it was not like that, that I was wrong and that, according to the polls, we were going to win the elections “very well.”

“My answer, invariably, was ‘I don’t read polls … I read economics and politics and I try to see reality.’ A reality that told me that in 2015 we lost the presidential elections in the second round and by a small difference, with the highest salary in dollars in Latin America -which represented more than double the current salary-, with inflation that was less than half that the current one and with a candidate, Mauricio Macri, who said that he was not going to get what he already had from anyone, but that they were only going to change the things that were wrong.”

“On Sunday, September 12 of this year, Peronism suffered an electoral defeat in unprecedented legislative elections. As I write these lines, I have the television turned on, but muted, and I read a graph: ‘Alberto hacked by Cristina’. No, it is not me. As much as they try to hide it, it is the result of choice and reality.”

“Why am I counting this? -continuous Cristina Fernandez- Because I will not continue to tolerate the press operations that are carried out on me and on our political space. (…) I have been President for two consecutive terms: In 2008 we had to go through the biggest global crisis after the Great Depression of the year ’30. We withstand permanent exchange rate runs – with much less reserves in the Central Bank than at present – and the siege of the Fondos Buitres. I know that governing is not easy, and Argentina even less so. I have even suffered a vice president who was declared an opponent of our government. Argentine men and women rest easy … that will never happen with me.”

“When I made the decision, and I do it in the first person singular because it was really like that, of proposing Alberto Fernández as a candidate for President of all Argentines, I did it with the conviction that it was the best for my country. I only ask the President to honor that decision… but above all else, taking his words and convictions as well, which is more important than anything: that he honor the will of the Argentine people.”

Differences that always existed: a matter of types of leadership

The post-electoral balance one week later shows that the differences between Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) and Alberto Fernández (AF) have always existed, despite the fact that most of the time both have opted to leave them in the background and even ignore them. It is worth noting that these differences emerge -in the first instance- because CFK and AF have two very different types of leadership, which later crystallize in a leadership of the country and in political, economic and social projects that are distant from each other.

At the beginning of Alberto Fernández’s administration, there was the possibility or the benefit of the doubt, however, now we can see that the mystery is over and hopes are dropped (even if they were few) that his political leadership could unite the Frente de Todos (FDT), to guide the national progressive political forces and, furthermore, to join in the battle that the Latin American leftist and revolutionary processes are waging before the onslaught of the national and international right-wing.

Tensions begin the night of defeat

It should be remembered that on the night of the primary elections, September 12, the Argentine president was the only voice of the FDT that was able to speak to his voters and the entire country. This produced several conflicting impressions, among them: 1. that Fernández was assuming all the government’s mistakes that had led to the electoral defeat; 2. that Fernández wanted to show that “he is the president” and that “he is in charge of the ship”, some of this was reflected in one of his Tweets when he said “The government management will continue to develop in the way that I deem appropriate. For that I was chosen”; and 3. that no one else from the Frente de Todos wanted to speak out, at such a crucial and delicate moment.

In any case, there is no reason to doubt that President Fernández was confident that he would be able to communicate in the best possible way to the Argentine people that the government “had listened” and that he would act accordingly. However, that message of acceptance of the defeat did not convince or reach where it should: the citizens of the society as the whole and the social and political actors of the FDT. It was a message, at the oratory and political level, that was boring and without force. We must also rule out that no one from the Frente de Todos would have wanted to speak with the Argentine people and that (if they had been allowed the microphone) they would surely have done better than AF.

Cristina’s Letter

In this sense, Kirchner’s letter found a way to say what she could not say the night the results came in. The leader of Kirchnerism, as she herself explains in her letter, has been warning since at least September of last year, 2020, between letters and acts, that the Argentine government was heading directly to collide with an iceberg (economic, political, social, electoral …), and, consequently, she claimed once again that his proposals and projects have not been taken into account, that they have not been implemented, by the current Argentine president.

In turn, this happens in a context of incessant accusations from the Argentine press, a country with a long tradition, development, and strength of investigative journalism, which accuses CFK of being “the one who really governs Argentina.” The local media have managed to establish the idea (which is already popular belief) that she is the true president and that all the decisions made in the Casa Rosada are her decisions. But: isn’t it obvious that if Kirchner governed, things would have gone differently? Of course, yes, however, as often happens, this is better understood and perceived from outside Argentina than from inside.

Now, at the social level and as a consequence of the governance crisis, is it possible that there will be a social outbreak in Argentina as happened in Colombia, Chile, or even in Bolivia? In this hard moment of Kirchnerism and with today’s political thermometer, such an outcome is not in sight. Although the situation could well be forging conflicts of similar styles, for many analysts “the blood will not reach the river”, that is, it is an internal problem that gained media notoriety, but that has a short-term solution. We could say that instead of being “a crisis of governance, legitimacy, leadership …” In reality, it is politics itself taking place.

Election results and the global context

We must not lose sight of the fact that a “crisis of the officialisms” is taking place worldwide, that is, in a pandemic framework in which governments have had to take unpopular measures, social unrest has taken its toll at the polls. Official “isms” have lost important space, examples of which we can find in Mexico City, Brazil, Spain and even in the United States.

On the other hand, Peronism as a political expression of an Argentine society, absorbs much of the national identity of that country, specifically, in this case, the idea that “when they do well, they are the best in the world, and when things go wrong, they are the worst”. So, for many, the perception of society these days is that: “this is the end of the world,” “the end of Peronism”, and, of course, “the death certificate of Kirchnerism.”

Is the Argentine government, Kirchnerism, the FDT, in a terminal political crisis, or is this precisely what had to happen after the so-called electoral ‘massacre’? This is what we mean by the expression “politics are happening”. Certainly, the South American nation is going through a tough governance crisis, but not all has yet been said As the quote says: “the people do not commit suicide”, and Peronism, as a social, political and cultural identity expression of the Argentine people, is going to fight until the inexorable (electoral) end.

Micaela Ovelar
Political scientist and international adviser, Argentine-Venezuelan scholar, feminist and social activist. Micaela has a B.A. in Political Science, a Masters in International Relations; with studies in issues of gender, government, democracy, and the state. She was the international relations adviser of president Hugo Chavez and has worked with the Venezuelan government for the last 15 years.She is also an independent journalist, producer, and in Film & TV Direction from EMPA (Venezuela). She was a producer and commentator at Radio Alba Ciudad (Caracas). Micaela worked as translator and transcriptionist on “South of the Border” by Oliver Stone, archival research on "Silvio Rodríguez. My first calling" by Catherine Murphy, and as a journalist for “Correo del Alba.” (Bolivia-Venezuela).

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May 2024