By María Agostina Cacault, 2011 Americas Project Fellow
Argentina reestablished its institutional democracy in 1983, just over 30 years ago. In the years that followed, the country’s political system was bipartisan, alternating between the “Justicialista” party and the “Unión Cívica Radical” party. It took a deep political, economic, social and institutional crisis in 2001 to give rise to the emergence of new parties. Post crisis, in 2003, Néstor Kirchner, then-governor of Santa Cruz, became president. At the end of his term, his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was deemed president-elect. The entirety of the Kirchners’ terms, which have lasted almost 12 years, is known as the “ciclo kirchnerista” or Kirchner cycle. Mr. Kirchner, as much as Mrs. Kirchner, boosted policies oriented toward recovering the active role of the state in the economy and direct market intervention in an attempt to specifically favor the popular majority.
This year marks a turning point in Argentinian politics now that Mrs. Kirchner lacks the constitutional possibility of being reelected.(1) And with the party system fragmented as it is, no candidate has a clear victory. The main parties for October’s presidential election are Frente Para la Victoria (FPV); Frente Renovador (FR); a new alliance composed of Propuesta Republicana (PRO), Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) and Coalición Cívica (CC); and Frente Amplio UNEN (FAUNEN).
The FPV, created by the Kirchners, is a government coalition that upholds the political movement known as Peronism as its main force. The party’s hopefuls include Daniel Scioli, Florencio Randazzo and Sergio Urribarri, among others. Scioli is the best positioned, with all signs pointing to him being the official candidate. He is campaigning on the promise of preserving and deepening the accomplishments made by the Kirchner governments in the past 11 years. Although it seems that Scioli will maintain continuity, he has constructed his own image within the governing party, portraying himself as someone interested in working with all political, economic and social sectors.
The FR is a new political force that emerged when Peronists from Buenos Aires province broke from the FPV and were joined with leaders from other political parties. It is led by Sergio Massa, who developed his career within Peronism, holding key roles in the Kirchner governments. In 2013, as mayor of Tigre (a city in the Buenos Aires province), Massa created the FR and won the national legislative elections, signifying a strong defeat to the ruling party. If he wins the presidency, Argentina can anticipate a boost in both political transparency and independence of the judicial power along with gradual economic changes. Security is the focus of his campaign.
A new alliance: PRO-UCR-CC
The PRO is a right-wing party that has governed the federal capital, Buenos Aires, since 2007. Its leader is Mauricio Macri, a businessman and former president of the popular soccer team Boca Juniors. Based on the political dominion that PRO has consolidated in Buenos Aires city, the party is expanding its influence throughout the rest of the country and, with the new alliance, it is building its presence in the main electoral centers. If Macri were to win the presidency, it is likely that he would implement a package of pro-business measures, including lowering taxes, deregulating the economy and reducing the fiscal deficit in order to halt inflation. On March 14, after the national convention of the Unión Cívica Radical (the once-progressive, center-left party, which represents the middle class and is part of the worldwide organization Socialist International), the UCR decided to abandon Frente Amplio UNEN to join this new alliance. Ernesto Sanz, who headed this strategy, will be the presidential candidate to compete against Macri and Elisa Carrió (CC) — a candidate who also abandoned Frente Amplio UNEN — in the primaries. By teaming together, the UCR gives the PRO the political structure it lacked, and PRO gives the UCR a competitive presidential candidate. Both Carrió and Sanz come from the center-left, which leads one to believe that this agreement is purely for electoral purposes.
The Frente Amplio UNEN is composed of the center-left Socialist Party (the fourth largest political party in the country in terms of votes) and different non-Peronist parties, such as GEN, ARI, Libres del Sur and Partido Socialista Auténtico. Its main leaders are Margarita Stolbizer, who will be the party’s presidential candidate, and Hermes Binner. Mainly socially democratic in its orientation, Frente Amplio UNEN focuses on proposals to change the institutional climate of Argentina, emphasizing the fight against corruption and the need to reestablish a real separation of powers. Regarding economic matters, UNEN does not have a distinct proposal; however, its positions are not significantly different from the other opposition forces.
The new electoral period will demand that candidates have resolutions for different issues on the public agenda. Among these, the most pressing are inflation, insecurity, economic competitiveness (both internally and externally), energy challenges, external debt (holdouts), the separation of powers and foreign policy.
A new stage
The majority of the candidates with potential to become president stand out by showing their inclination for political dialogue and negotiation. These elements will be indispensable in a scene where parliamentary forces are fragmented and parties can hardly gain stable majorities in both chambers of Congress.
The most recent major polls have assigned real presidential potential to three candidates: Daniel Scioli (FPV), Sergio Massa (FR) and Mauricio Macri (PRO). The first electoral challenge will be the primaries for each party or front in August. The first round of presidential elections will be in October, with a runoff — if necessary — in November.
Regardless of who triumphs in the elections, Argentina will enter into a new chapter marked by the end a 12-year Kirchner regime.
1. The Kirchnerist strategy was to alternate power between Mr. Kirchner and Mrs. Kirchner. With Mr. Kirchner’s death in 2010 and the constitutional impossibility of Mrs. Kirchner being reelected, the “model” had no successor.
Image courtesy of presidencia.gov.ar (CC-BY-SA).
Voices of the Americas is a space for Americas Project fellows to share their insights into events unfolding in their home countries and in the region as a whole. The fellows' essays will also focus on economic development, institution building, democracy and the rule of law.