On Sunday Argentina will go to the polls to select their candidates for the country’s upcoming October legislative elections. Though it may seem a trivial democratic chapter, the open, mandatory and simultaneous primaries will in fact be the first step in an election that is likely to prove critical to Argentina and most probably a referendum on President Cristina Fernandez’ administration.
Late last year, Cristina Fernández sparked protests across the country when she suggested changes to the constitution to allow her to run for a third term. The move would require a vote by a two-thirds majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
At the moment, Cristina Fernandez party, the Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory, FPV), and its allies control both houses. Half of the seats in the Chamber and one-third in the Senate will now be up for reelection in October. The vast majority of the open seats, at least in the Chamber are currently held by the opposition.
Opposition parties in the Lower House will have to repeat their exceptional performance from 2009, when they last defeated the FPV, simply to maintain the status quo. The FPV doesn’t have to work nearly as hard to further extend its control of the legislature and give the president a larger majority with which to push further populist and authoritarian reforms.
Already, in her first six years in office, Cristina Fernandez has made numerous advances on democracy and freedoms and subjugated the private sector probably following the model of Venezuela’s former leader Hugo Chavez, whom she admired.
Last April, with the outspoken support of President Cristina Fernandez, judicial reforms were passed that legal analysts warn will grant extensive control over the judiciary and curtail legislative controls. The reforms included limits on court injunctions that can be made in cases against the state and changes to how members are selected to the body that oversees the federal courts.
These reforms came in lockstep with Kirchner’s attempts to weaken el Grupo Clarin, the country’s lone independent telecommunications outlet and one of the few remaining sources of print media able to voice opposition to the “Kirchnerist” inclusion development model.
On Sunday the main battle will take place in the Province of Buenos Aires the largest electoral district (37%) and the one that decides any national election. Sergio Massa, a former cabinet chief and mayor of Tigre, a one million town half an hour from the capital but part of the metropolis is challenging President Cristina Fernandez chosen candidate, another metropolitan mayor, Martin Insaurralde.
Massa has a 32.8% vote intention, according to the latest public opinion polls and Insaurralde (31%) was closing in with the explicit campaigning of Cristina Fernandez and all the possible resources from the central government.
However the primaries campaign was atypical because of two-day mourning for the death of 14 people and others still missing when a major gas leak explosion collapsed a several stories building. Most political parties cancelled the final rallies of their campaigns. Nevertheless in several places of the country there were spontaneous protests against government corruption and insecurity but without the turnout of other occasions.
Since her re-election in 2011 with a historic and overwhelming 54% of the vote, support for Cristina Fernandez has been rapidly eroding since the economy is not responding and she has not denied her appetite for a third consecutive re-election barred by the constitution and which would need a special two thirds majority in Congress, thus the significance of Sunday’s event.
The Sunday primaries are a kind of plebiscite on the government’s performance, according to Mariel Fornoni from Management & Fit consultants.
“People want a limit to the current government, no longer a blank check, on the contrary they yearn for a strong opposition”, added Fornoni.
But Rosendo Fraga, probably Argentina’s most accurate political analyst estimated that “the ruling coalition might manage 35% of the vote in all the country and will then try and impose its interpretation that it is the most voted political group with twenty points ahead of the runner up”.
This hypothetical 35% “means 19 points less that when the presidential ballot in 2011 and 16 points less than the percentage in the Lower House at the same election, but no other force will make it above 15% given the atomization of the opposition”, argues Fraga.
The opposition will argue that two out of three votes went to the opposition and thus the ruling coalition has suffered a major setback compared to 2011, says Fraga.
But if Massa and his supporters win, this could spell a two pronged political trouble for Cristina. They can and will challenge her policies and will certainly weaken her third consecutive re-election mandate attempts. Furthermore if Cristina Fernandez is really weakened it could cause certain political instability as has happened since the return of democracy in 1983, with all Argentine presidents on the last leg of their last mandate or only mandate: the most outstanding cases Raul Alfosin and Fernando de la Rua.
Although both were members of the opposition Radical party, the Argentine hegemonic Peronist movement with its ubiquitous and power-assault instinct if a new leader is seeing as emerging, the outgoing president will have to rule the last leg of his/her mandate (until 2015) with mere symbolic formality.
Finally more than 30 million Argentines vote on Sunday to choose candidates for the 127 seats in the lower House and 24 seats in the Senate, which will be disputed in next October’s mid term election.