“With all respect to our President, (Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner) I hope you have heard the message of the Argentines in the polls and beginning tomorrow (Monday) you will convene us to dialogue”, said the Mayor of the City of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri who emerged from Sunday’s mid term election as one of the strongest 2011 presidential hopefuls.
Together with dissident Francisco De Narvaez from the ruling Peronist movement they organized and drove to victory the opposition in the crucial province of Buenos Aires (36% of the national electorate) challenging none else than former president Nestor Kirchner (Cristina’s husband) and all of the federal government’s resources.
De Narvaez and former provincial governor Felipe Solá with 82% of vote-count were ahead of Mr. Kirchner 34% to 32% with a third party taking 21%, meaning the ruling couple could loose up to 20 Lower House seats in the province of Buenos Aires. In the 2005 mid term election the Kirchner candidates obtained a landslide 43% of the vote.
The result cancelled all early celebrations at the Kirchners bunker in downtown Buenos Aires who had been anticipating a “good electoral result”.
But the adverse results were not limited to the province of Buenos Aires, or the poor showing in the city of Buenos Aires, it also included defeat of the Kirchner candidates in three leading provinces, Córdoba, Santa Fé and Mendoza, and even in Patagonia’s Santa Cruz, the stronghold of the ruling couple. Although insignificant in electoral numbers, the impact sends a powerful message to the political system and the hegemonic Peronist network, anticipating the coming of a new leader.
In Argentina’s mid term elections half the Lower House, 127 seats were renewed, and a third of the Senate, 24 benches. According to the primary results Sunday night, the Victory Front (VF) of the Kirchners looses its control over Congress in both houses and becomes the first minority. This means all major legislation will have to be negotiated and agreed with the opposition.
From 116 seats plus 17 allies in the Lower House, the VF will have in the new Congress at the most 96 and is expected to loose 4 to 6 Senate seats. The main grouping in the opposition Acuerdo Civico y Social jumps from 52 to 80 seats in the Lower House, and Macri’s Union-Pro soars from 17 to 47.
Former president Kirchner and head of the incumbent campaign congratulated the winners and the “transparency of the polls” and said overall it was a very “tight race”, adding “we lost by a minimum margin”. He underlined “look at what happened in Buenos Aires City, after winning by 60% in 2007, this time they only managed 31% and in Santa Fe the difference was one percentage point”.
Kirchner said the government will review what happened, improve governance and beginning Monday “we’ll start working for a viable (presidential) alternative for 2011”.
Sunday’s election also helped line up presidential hopefuls for 2011: Macri with the support of conservative Peronists; Senator Carlos Reutemann from Santa Fe; Vice-president Julio Cobos whose decisive vote in favour of farmers last year made him an instant national political figure and whose alliance in his home province of Mendoza won by a landslide; Mario Das Neves from Chubut repeated his tight political control of the province and Luis Juez elected Senator in Cordoba.
Senator Reutemann, a farmer and former F1 pilot who has been considered a possible presidential candidate on several occasions finally will be running this time: he promised he would do so if he was re-elected. His re-election also leaves aside the presidential aspiration of the only Socialist governor in Argentina and former mayor of Rosario the country’s second larges city, Hermes Binner
Another interesting result is that Argentine camp organizations, which have been struggling against the windfall taxes of the Kirchner administration, in alliance with provincial parties managed at least eleven seats in the Lower House.
J29 kicks off a new ball game in the post “K” era which dominated Argentine politics virtually undisputedly since 2003. One of the first challenges will be when the new Congress moves in, because mid term elections were advanced from October to June, but the official calendar for the coming legislature remains at December 10.