Peronism has survived the midterm elections held this Sunday in Argentina. The Government of Alberto Fernández has avoided the electoral catastrophe that it seemed to anticipate the result obtained in the primary elections of September and they confirmed all the polls. The surprise has been great. A three-point comeback in the province of Buenos Aires keeps it as the first force in deputies. On the other hand, he lost the majority in the Senate and will no longer be able to impose the agenda of issues without opposition support. But the numbers are, in any case, much better than I expected. The new map of power in Congress will accompany Fernández until 2023, in an uphill scenario, urged by an economic crisis that has not given respite for three years.
The novelty of an atypical day – where the unwritten rules that order speeches, statements and celebrations were not followed – was that President Alberto Fernández used the night to make official announcements in a recorded message from the official residence of Olivos. At no time did he refer to the results at the polls. In a solemn tone, he said he would call for a responsible dialogue with the opposition. And, to everyone’s surprise, he announced that in December he would send to Congress “a bill that makes explicit the multi-year economic program for sustainable development,” a medium-term projection that both investors and the IMF were demanding. Such a plan needs opposition support, because it exceeds the two years remaining in the current administration. “It will contemplate the best understandings that our Government has reached with the staff of the IMF in the negotiations led by our Minister of Economy, Martín Guzmán, without renouncing the principles of economic growth and social inclusion ”, he said. The vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, had already anticipated that she would not go to the campaign center that the Frente de Todos set up in Chacarita, a middle-class neighborhood in Buenos Aires. He said doctors had recommended that he rest after the operation he underwent ten days ago.
The party came later. The Peronist candidates were euphoric. “The second stage of this Government is beginning,” shouted the candidate for deputy in the capital, Daniel Santoro, as if he had won the election, despite having been more than 23 points away from the opposition María Eugenia Vidal in his district. The governor of the province, Axel Kicillof, also celebrated what he saw as a triumph in defeat.
The official results gave the opposition front Together for Change the victory in 13 of the 24 districts of the country in the election for deputies, against nine of Peronism and two triumphs of local forces. The result in the province of Buenos Aires was key in the comeback of the Peronist Front of All, where the difference against was reduced from more than four points to less than two. The count throughout the country finally left the ruling party with 118 deputies, two less than it had, against 116 of Together for Change (he added one). It will be more complicated in the Upper House. His senators went from 41 to 35, two of the half plus one of the total. With those numbers, you will no longer be able to impose the debate of bills on your own, as you have done until now. This is bad news for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who controlled the legislative agenda at ease in the Senate, which she presides by constitutional mandate.
If Peronism is still breathing, the opposition had much more to celebrate. The sum of all the national votes gave him almost nine points of advantage over Peronism, a figure that, if maintained, opens the doors to the presidency in 2023. It also elevates figures who were badly hit in the general elections of 2019, such as the ex-governor of the province of Buenos Aires, María Eugenia Vidal. As a candidate for deputy for the city of Buenos Aires, Vidal added 47% of the votes. If it did not reach 50%, it was because of the votes it lost in the hands of the far-right Javier Milei, a figure who burst onto the political scene in the capital with 17%.
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María Eugenia Vidal, former governor of the province of Buenos Aires, was the star of the night at the headquarters of the opposition campaign. Surrounded by the strong figures of the party and some 500 militants, the candidate for deputy for the city of Buenos Aires obtained one of the most resounding victories: “Millions of Argentines throughout the country today said enough.” Enough is a reference to Kirchnerism and has been his campaign slogan in these elections. Vidal was the strong bet of the opposition in a district where macrismo is unbeatable. There, former president Mauricio Macri governed for two terms, and then his successor, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.
The mayor of the city of Buenos Aires was the other highlight of the night. Rodríguez Larreta is the most “presidential” figure in the opposition coalition. These midterm elections also serve to measure political forces and support for the various figures. For this reason, his speech was the one that closed the event, and he did so with a federalist message: he crossed the border of the capital and included the interior provinces. “Today we carry the values that we preach throughout the country. Many of us had a bad time this year, many lost their loved ones, their jobs, but know that you are not alone. We have a lot to dream about, ”he said. As at the end of the campaign, former President Macri was present on stage accompanying his colleagues, but he remained just another observer. He applauded the entire act, but didn’t say a word.
“All five of us won,” chanted the militants at the party’s electoral headquarters, referring to the senators they needed to conquer that part of Congress. However, the opposition victory was tempered by the comeback that Peronism had.
The observers could not read the power of Peronism to reorganize itself in the face of defeat, even in a disorderly way. Of course the omens were not the best. After the fall in the primaries, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner forced a Cabinet change and requested in an open letter the resignation of the chief of ministers and right-hand man of the president, Santiago Cafiero. The play blurred the power of Alberto Fernández. He forced him to move the campaign on the defensive, while Kirchnerism, the main force of the government coalition, forced him to increasingly radicalize his discourse. Meanwhile, the government accelerated the transfer of money to the poorest and the middle classes, convinced that popular anger over the pandemic could be reversed with more resources in their pockets. Given the results, the strategy was effective in the suburbs of the province of Buenos Aires, a Peronist stronghold that turned its back in the primaries, but insufficient in the provinces that elected senators
What will happen from Monday is still a mystery. Although Peronism lives, two years remain uphill. The country has had three years of falling GDP, the peso continues to lose value, four out of ten Argentines are poor and inflation remains above 50%. The Casa Rosada will now bet all its chips on at least one agreement with the IMF. And you won’t miss the chance to party, even in defeat.
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