Last week, the electoral wheels were put in motion. Two months ahead of the primaries for the legislative elections, to be held on 11th August, political parties were required to register alliances before the electoral authority.
The next deadline is on Saturday 22nd June, when parties and alliances will have to register the candidates that will participate in the primaries.
The activity amongst politicians and party operators over the last few weeks has been feverish – meetings, conversations, negotiations, tantrums. More so than ever, it became evident that shared goals, common policies, or ideology were not the main factors at play. The main discussions, and the basis for many alliances, seemed to revolve around how many candidates each party would be able to have on the ballot, and in which position (the closer to the top, the better the chance of being elected).
The Kirchnerist Frente para la Victoria (FPV) was the first alliance to be registered on the day of the deadline, Wednesday 12th, in all 24 districts. There were no surprises on this front, which includes the Partido Justicialista, Partido de la Victoria, Partido Comunista, and Nuevo Encuentro, among others. The leftist Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores (FIT) will also maintain the arrangements they had for the last election.
All eyes were therefore on the opposition – after many months talking about the need to come together against the government, brokering agreements turned out to be more complicated than expected. While the full electoral panorama will be revealed on Saturday, the registered alliances and the ever-spinning rumour mill gives us a good idea of the likely scenario for the August primaries.
The Importance of Mid-Term Elections
In October, half of the Chamber of Deputies and a third of the Senate will be renewed. The deputies who were elected in 2009 will be finishing their terms, which means that there is much at stake for the opposition, and less so for the government.
The 2009 election, right after the ‘campo crisis‘, was the worst performance by Kirchnerist parties since 2003. As a result, only around 40 seats of the 127 at play currently belong to the ruling parties or allies; in other words, a mediocre performance by the government would be enough to hold on to its current majority.
The opposition, however, needs to repeat the good results from 2009 just to maintain the status quo, and its chances of snatching the majority from the government are rather slim. Even if they did, it is hard to know what the effect would be in terms of parliamentary activity -when the opposition held the majority between 2009 and 2011, parliamentary performance was below average in terms of bills passed.
This is because talking about ‘the opposition’ as a single entity is tricky. Despite their self-proclaimed aim to unite against the government – something they consider a demand by the people – it is evident that their arrangements are precarious at best. They are not based on commonly-agreed electoral platforms or on shared goals and policies, but simply on opposing the government and trying to score a few extra points ahead of the next presidential election.
In fact, many consider the October election as the begining of a long campaign for 2015, and have set their sights in securing the best position possible in the race to the Casa Rosada.
The City of Buenos Aires will have three main contenders, as a large part of the opposition managed to come together in a broad centre-left alliance with some centre-right elements.
The Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), Frente Amplio Progresista (FAP, made up of Libres del Sur and Partido Socialista), Proyecto Sur, Coalición Cívica (CC), and other smaller parties formed an alliance called ‘Unen’. Unlike most other parties and alliances, which consider the primaries a mere formality, Unen will in fact decide its candidates in August. The front will put forward three ballots for the deputies’ election, headed by Elisa Carrió (CC), Ricardo Gil Lavedra (UCR), and Martin Lousteau (President Fernández’s former economy minister, [in]famous for drafting the resolution that brought about the ‘campo crisis’ in 2008). The candidates of each of the ballots that obtain more than 25% of the vote will be eligible to appear on the final ballot for October – the order of the candidates will be decided using the D’Hondt method, the same one that is used in the actual election.
The city of Buenos Aires will also elect senators in October. Unen will have three ballots for senators, each of which will be attached to the deputies’ ballots, and which will be headed by Pino Solanas (Proyecto Sur), Alfonso Prat Gay (CC), and Rodolfo Terragno (UCR) respectively.
Unen will have to run against the favourite, PRO, and the FPV. Despite high expectations, PRO did not manage to secure a deal with Néstor Kirchner’s former economy minister, Roberto Lavagna, who instead registered an alliance with Acción Ciudadana, a party which in 2005 carried a neo-nazi as its main candidate. There is still speculation that Lavagna could run under the PRO banner, though it would mean giving his current allies the cold shoulder. In the meantime, Gabriela Michetti is favourite to lead the ballot for the Senate (after many unsuccessfull attempts to have her represent the party in the province of Buenos Aires), while it is expected that the rabbi Sergio Bergman will secure the first spot in the deputies’ ballot.
The FPV, as usual, remains tight-lipped about its candidates, which are likely to be selected, as usual, by the president herself. However, there are strong rumours that senator Daniel Filmus will fight to keep his seat, while city legislator Juan Cabandié could lead the deputies’ race. A victory by PRO is almost out of the question, while the FPV and Unen would fight for the second spot, which secures a seat in the Senate.
The largest electoral district, the province of Buenos Aires, is still something of a mystery.
Mauricio Macri’s party, PRO, was unable to secure an agreement with Francisco de Narváez, which would have given it a strong candidate in this decisive district. Macri’s cousin and Vicente López’s mayor, Jorge Macri, suggested that the party may now be looking at an agreement with the mayor of Tigre, Sergio Massa. If they cannot secure a firm arrangement, PRO may not present candidates in the province at all, missing a crucial opportunity to set foot in the province with a view to the 2015 presidential election.
Massa has been at the centre of the rumour mill for the past week, since he registered his own alliance in the province of Buenos Aires. President Fernández’s former chief of cabinet is a bit like governor Daniel Scioli -nominally he is allied with the government, but no one is quite sure where his convictions lie, and the opposition have been trying to get him to jump ship for years. He remains cautious though, not giving anything away. The speculation this week was whether he would run for deputy himself, something that now seems unlikely. What is certain, given the fact that he registered his ‘Frente Renovador’, is that his candidates (likely his wife and the mayor of Almirante Brown) will not be the same as the governments’.
UCR, FAP, and CC will also go together in the province, where they will add GEN to the alliance. GEN’s leader, former UCR Margarita Stolbizer, will lead the consensus ballot. This has brought about some internal problems within the UCR, as one of their factions does not approve of the alliance and is seeking to present its own ballot in the primaries.
There is uncertainty among the FPV ranks as to who will represent the government in Buenos Aires. The main candidates are Social Development Minister Alicia Kirchner (resisted by some factions), Interior and Transport Minister Florencio Randazzo (his chances possibly affected by the Castelar train crash), and, with a lower profile, Lomas de Zamora mayor Martín Insaurralde. Further complicating the selection process, it has been reported that Governor Scioli’s representatives are having meetings with high-ranking government officials to include their own people in the FPV ballots. The negotiations could be topped by a meeting between Scioli and President Fernández by the weekend, leaving Scioli within the realm of Kirchnerism -at least for now.
Of the remaining, ‘big’ districts, PRO also failed to reach an agreement with dissident peronists in the province of Córdoba. In this case, it was governor José Manuel de la Sota who slipped from the reach of Macri’s negotiators. De la Sota’s candidate, former governor Juan Schiaretti, will be fighting for first place against UCR candidate Oscar Aguad. Polls have not been generous to PRO’s candidate, former football referee Héctor Baldassi, or to the FPV, whose main candidate is yet to be chosen.
In Santa Fe, PRO is also trusting on a non-politician to secure a few spots in the lower house. Comedian Miguel Del Sel, who surprised everyone by coming a very close second in the elections for governor in 2011, will lead the fight against the Frente Progresista, the succesful alliance between the UCR and the Partido Socialista that has governed the province since 2007. Hermes Binner will get the first spot on the consensus ballot, although a UCR faction has threatened to present their own ballot in the primaries. The candidate who will represent the FPV remains a mystery, since the government’s main man in Santa Fe, Agustín Rossi, was recently designated Defence Minister.
Other, smaller districts, are also going through similar processes to put together viable electoral alternatives to face the government’s candidates, which are likely to perform well in most provinces.
Whilst many of these alliances may not survive the elections, they provide an interesting glimpse into the dynamics of political negotiation in Argentina. Every hand shake, every photo showing two newly allied candidates has consequences in the configuration of the ever-shifting party system. Ultimately, it will be up to the voters to reward or reject the attempts by the opposition to reinvent itself.