Election campaigns in Argentina normally climax on the Thursday before election day, the last day before a 48-hour electoral curfew kicks in. But this week’s events, ahead of tomorrow’s midterm elections, affected campaigning for both predictable and unpredictable reasons.
Predictable because Tuesday happened to be Peronist Loyalty Day (marking the day in 1945 when mass demonstrations led to the release of Juan Domingo Perón from prison and his ascent to the presidency four months later) – this set the tone for the closing rallies with most parties competing to be more Peronist than the others.
And unpredictable because on that same day a body, now known to be that of missing artisan Santiago Maldonado (whose fate has been the subject of intense speculation for more than two months), was found on Tuesday in the Chubut River down in Patagonia, where he was last at a protest in favour of indigenous rights. As a result the major parties (including President Mauricio Macri’s Cambiemos, or “Let’s Change,” coalition and his predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s Citizens’ Unity) announced a halt to campaigning in the course of Wednesday. But while the rallies were halted, the vow didn’t seem to count for much with Buenos Aires Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal appearing on television that very night to answer campaign- tinged questions and politicians like 1País’ Margarita Stolbizer holding court with the press the next morning.
Yet even with the Maldonado case again dominating headlines in the final week of the campaign, most pundits were not expecting the issue to change the outcome of the midterm election, which is expected to give Macri’s coalition additional seats but not a majority in either chamber of Congress.
Nevertheless, the Maldonado issue has become something of an electoral hobby-horse for some opposition parties and human rights groups, who accuse the Gendarmerie (Border Guard) state security force of abducting the 28-year-old while Macri’s government covered up information as to his whereabouts. The government strongly denies that there is any evidence to support this claim. Such issues are sensitive in Argentina, where memories of the crimes against humanity under the 1976-1983 military dictatorship are constantly revived.
Before the campaigning ground to a halt, various candidates seemed more interested in claiming the votes of long dead Juan and Eva Perón than in the support of living voters. Buenos Aires province senatorial candidate Fernández de Kirchner told a mass rally that filled up Racing’s stadium on Monday (a public holiday) that if Eva were alive, she would vote for “Cristina” while Juan Perón would be voting for her running-mate Jorge Taiana and both for her party. But her Peronist “Cumplir” rival Florencio Randazzo said that the Peróns would be voting Peronist because they would be shocked by the levels of poverty left by Kirchnerism. Cambiemos candidate Esteban Bullrich advanced a similar argument on his own behalf.
The identifcation with Peronism was the defining feature of the rally at Racing which filled a stadium with a capacity of 40,000 to overflowing (organisers claimed a total attendance of 100,000) – ironically, Citizens’ Unitywas founded as a breakaway from the Justicialist Party, the movement’s traditional organ. Fernández de Kirchner said that the only loyalty hown by Macri on Loyalty Day was to big business.
Macri’s own homage to Loyalty Day was a rally at Ferro stadium which brought together his coalition’s big guns – not only the president himself but Buenos Aires Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal, Elisa “Lilita” Carrió topping the coalition’s Lower House slate in this city and City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, among others.