Argentina’s Day of Democracy: General Elections of 2015
By Tracy Beck Fenwick, Director of the Australian Centre for Federalism and Senior Associate of the Australian National Centre for Latin America (ANU)
On Sunday the 25th of October Argentines voted in their 8th general election since the country’s return to democracy in 1983. From a regional perspective, it was truly a day of democracy and it was dramatic.
Since the early 2000s, Argentina has been governed by Mr. and Mrs. Kirchner’s brand of Peronism that morphed into Kirchnerismo. Despite Néstor’s death, his succeeding wife’s scandals, falling popularity ratings and popular mobilizations, the Front for Victory (FPV-PJ) appeared unstoppable. At least that was what we all thought when President Cristina Kirchner endorsed presidential candidate Daniel Scioli, a former governor of Buenos Aires and vice-president as her successor. But like many recent elections from around the globe, how wrong we were, at least for this first round.
For Sunday’s election, Mauricio Macri, the former Mayor of the City of Buenos Aires from PRO (Republican Proposal), was primarily competing against Scioli and Sergio Massa, a former Kirchnerite now running under his own label. Macri was supported by the opposition based Union Civic Radicals (UCR), and the left-of-center ARI (Egalitarian Republic) of Elisa Carrío. Even though Argentina has an array of active opposition parties, since 1983, only the Peronists (PJ) have both won and completed its terms in office. The UCR tried twice and failed in 1983 and in 1999. Therefore, the PJ is widely believed to be the only party that can successfully govern Argentina. Operating as a powerful party machine, the PJ is ingenious in its ability to morph into whatever ideology and platform is determined as the most viable for reaching the popular vote.
At 6 pm after the polling stations closed this Sunday both exit polls and electoral predictions expected a 40% Scioli lead, followed by 30% for Macri, then Massa. The public debate was about whether or not it would be a straight victory, or, require a ballotage, a second round of voting. After the official results however failed to appear, at around 10 pm Scioli delivered what seemed to be a victory speech that hinted of second round campaigning. With the true vigour of a national popular movement’s leader he incited Peron, the poor, the middle-class, and national industry. He then reminded the voter they were choosing between two projects. The first, his own, was framed in past Peronist glories, yet purported to be guaranteeing the future. The second, the opposition’s, was heavily framed in their past failures. He warned of a possible devaluation, the end of family benefits, and privatizations. Macri also delivered a speech shortly thereafter that sounded optimistic of a possible second round of voting.
But citizens kept wondering by midnight local time as candidates and parties from around the country celebrated victories and accepted defeats where were the official results? Nothing. Screens blank. The gubernatorial results for the Province of Buenos Aires which represents 38% of the electorate—nothing. Cristina was visibly absent, as was her chosen candidate for the province, Aníbal Fernandez. Panic set in on the live news channels, within the opposition, and on social media. Was this democracy unraveling?
Shortly after midnight the Minister of Justice and the Director of the Electoral Office appeared in a press conference saying that in two minutes they would deliver the provisional results long after most party headquarters had emptied. It was incredible. The official results showed Scioli was leading by over three percentage points and Maria Eugenia Vidal, a 42 years old well educated and experienced female bureaucrat from the right-of-centre PRO had won the gubernatorial election of the Province of Buenos Aires. This victory overturns decades of patronage-based control in some of the province’s core municipalities. For the past 28 years Buenos Aires has been governed by a Peronist male in a country that simply cannot be governed without the political control of this province.
As election night closed and live commentary continued into the early hours of Monday morning, Scioli gained a few percentage points. He ended up with a 36.35% lead versus Macri’s 34.78%. Although the 6 hours of absent electoral results signaled to those watching another serious state mishap, democracy won. It also claimed some historic firsts, including the first second round of voting scheduled for November 24th. Thus now we can speculate: If Maurcio Macri has a real chance at winning the Presidency, and his coalition controls the most powerful province in the country that is now officially under the leadership of a relatively young woman, perhaps an opposition coalition will not only win, but finish its term in office for the first time in 32 years of Peronist control. Nothing in a democratic state is impossible.