Kirchnerism has a lot to worry about. Its candidates running for congressional seats on Nov. 14 have lost in primary elections in 18 of the nation’s 24 districts, according to official results. The defeat includes the province of Buenos Aires, historic stronghold of Peronism and responsible for 40% of the votes nationwide. The opposition, gathered around the Together for Change coalition, the same that led Mauricio Macri to the presidency in 2015, retains its traditional districts (the city of Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Córdoba) and wins in provinces that tend to be refractory to the right, such as Chaco, La Pampa, Tierra del Fuego, Misiones and even Santa Cruz, political cradle of Kirchnerism. The results represent a very hard blow, with even unpredictable consequences, for the government of Alberto Fernández, which in a way submitted its administration to a plebiscite in these primary elections. The opposition’s triumph puts the mayor of the capital, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, in the race for the presidency in 2023.
President Fernández admitted the opposition’s victory in a speech alongside the main candidates and his deputy, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. “Something we didn’t do well so that people didn’t follow us, and everyone here has heard the verdict. There is a demand that we have not satisfied, and which we will pay attention to starting tomorrow”, he said. “The campaign has just started and two months to go [para as eleições legislativas]. I have two years of government ahead of me, and I’m not going to sit back. I humbly ask you to help us. Let’s go ahead, in November we’re going to turn this story around”, concluded the president, who alone took the defeat speech.
The Argentines participated this Sunday in an original electoral experiment, with the choice of candidates in primary, open, simultaneous and mandatory elections (known by the acronym PASO). This vote becomes a referendum on the current Government, and the Peronists were aware of the difficulties they faced: economy in free fall, the result of three years of recession and paralysis by the pandemic, unforced errors of Alberto Fernández and its surroundings and disputes increasingly evident within the coalition, with Cristina Kirchner as the protagonist. However, a narrow victory for Kirchnerism in the province of Buenos Aires and first place in the total sum of national votes was expected. None of that happened. Even with Peronism as a whole. The map of Argentina’s provinces has been tinted yellow, the color of Together for Change, and Peronism loses control of the interior of the country, its main fortress.
The results give a dimension of the catastrophe. In the province of Buenos Aires, with 82% of the ballots counted, the opposition coalition has 38.3% against 33.5% of the ruling Frente de Todos. In the federal capital, macrismo got 48.3% of the votes, against 24.6% for Peronism. The interior of the country was no longer benevolent towards the government, including in traditionally Peronist provinces such as La Pampa (48.8% x 38.3%) and Chaco (44.2% x 35.5%). Government pre-candidates only totaled more votes than their rivals in Tucumán, Catamarca, La Rioja, Formosa, San Juan and Santiago del Estero. The result makes the mayor of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, the main name of the opposition, after having armed an election with their own candidates, to the detriment of the more radicalized sectors of the coalition, represented by Mauricio Macri.
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The loss of the province of Buenos Aires and other traditionally Peronist provinces was not even in the government’s most pessimistic projections. “The defeat is partly explained by economic reasons”, says in a quick analysis the director of the consultancy Poliarquía, Eduardo Fidanza. “The value of the salary has deteriorated, the levels of inflation are intolerable, and the Government has not been able to compensate for this with the management of the pandemic. In Buenos Aires, for example, we see that the votes were basically those of Cristina Kirchner, because neither Alberto Fernández nor Sergio Massa [presidente da Câmara de Deputados e terceira força da coalizão oficialista] added to the total result”, he says.
The Government will now have two months of campaigning so that the results of the primaries are not repeated in the final election in November, when the polls will renew half of the Chamber of Deputies and a third of the Senate. The government runs the risk of losing even the majority it holds in the Upper Chamber, where each province is represented by three senators. There, Cristina Kirchner, who, as vice-president, heads this legislative body. “The perspective is complex”, warns Fidanza, “because the government arrived at the election weakened and from morning on this weakness will be greater, with a president with little popular support and a vice president who has a 50% rejection,” he says. .
At Together for Change, everything was a party. María Eugenia Vidal, former governor of the province of Buenos Aires at the time of Macri, has now devastated the capital. “Thank you for giving us another chance,” she told her followers, accompanied by Mayor Rodríguez Larreta and other leaders of the opposition coalition. Vidal lost re-election in 2019 against the current governor, Kirchnerist Axel Kicillof. “Tonight the votes said ‘less to go.’ You know, I know and Kirchnerism knows: less is needed. There is less so that there is an opposition bloc in Congress to prevent the majority, for cynicism and lies to be exhausted, to recover the education we have lost”, he said.
The primaries also highlighted the emergence of a hitherto unknown far-right force in Argentina. Economist Javier Milei, defender of Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump, was the third force in the capital, with 13.6% of the vote.
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