September 13, 2021

Latam

ARGENTINA: Mid-term primary takeaways

BY Nicholas Watson

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( 3 mins)

The governing Front for All (FdT) suffered a major setback in the party primaries held yesterday ahead of the partial mid-term legislative elections scheduled for 14 November – as we previously anticipated. Since voting is obligatory, the primaries assume the form of a large-scale opinion poll. The main takeaways are as follows:

The FdT lost by nine points nationally when its lower house tally is compared against the total number of votes cast for opposition lower house lists. The FdT had been aiming for 40% of the vote, but it won 31%. Together for Change (JxC) instead won 40%.

The FdT lost key districts, Buenos Aires province being the most important because it accounts for over a third of the electorate and it includes Vice President Cristina Fernandez (CFK)’s electoral stronghold. In the province, the FdT won 33.6% versus a combined total of 37.9% for JxC. It is not a surprise that the FdT lost the capital city of Buenos Aires and Cordoba, but to be beaten in Santa Cruz, from where Kirchnerismo originated, is remarkable.

If these results are replicated in November, the FdT would lose its hitherto comfortable Senate majority and see its lower house bloc reduced to the point that JxC would become the main bloc. That would leave the government unable to advance its agenda for the remainder of President Alberto Fernandez’s term.

Previous mid-term defeats under CFK could be blamed on Peronism’s internal divisions. On this occasion, CFK cannot put yesterday’s results down to such divisions because – apart from the breakaway faction led by Florencio Randazzo that won 3.71% in Buenos Aires province – Peronism is united under the three- legged structure of President Fernandez, Lower House President Sergio Massa, and CFK herself together with La Campora , the left-wing organization led by her son Maximo Kirchner. Instead, this outcome could cause irreversible damage to the FdT coalition.

It will be very difficult to reverse these results for the vote proper in November. A vaccination push combined with more tangible signs of economic recovery could help the FdT, while CFK will no doubt push for the maximization of Peronism’s well-established clientelist structures in Buenos Aires province. However, it will be difficult to win back voters pained by the state of the economy and frustrated with government incompetence and scandals.

Participation, which was relatively low yesterday, does tend to increase in the elections proper but usually favors JxC. In fact, FdT campaign strategists will be rightly concerned that the distance between them and the JxC could even widen between now and November.

Fernandez himself is seriously damaged by these results. A key issue in the immediate term is whether CFK obliges Fernandez to accept deep changes to the cabinet to signal new direction and energy and, if so, whether these have a more radical complexion. A shift to radicalism before November would be a turn-off for many voters, so it could wait until after the vote.

CFK’s reaction will in turn affect talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Fernandez could still have a role as the fall guy for unpopular measures that arise from this process, or CFK could double down on intransigent nationalism. CFK’s calculations about the 2023 presidential contest will guide her decisions over the coming weeks. The stark truth is that she cannot afford to lose in 2023 given the number of legal investigations she continues to face.

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