A quarter of a century after the country’s last Constitutional reform, the political system is finally starting to act as if this were a parliamentary rather than a presidential democracy. With the electoral offer finally completed this weekend after months of wrangling, party swaps and political barter, the outcome is a less polraised election than initially expected, and moderate hope of greater dialogue rather than confrontation next year, when whoever is in power will face a tough economic picture.
But over the next couple of weeks, until the public digests the latest changes, you will see the country’s leading politicians, from both sides of the aisle, explaining what they have just done, as if they were at the shrink.
Take the case of Sergio Massa, who has for years been preaching about the country’s need to find a third way away from both Mauricio Macri and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and who this week confirmed he will lead the Alberto Fernández-Cristina Kirchner’s Lower House slate in the province of Buenos Aires. Massa now says that the country needs a “New Majority” and has realised he cannot oversee it. Alberto Fernández is “a very good candidate,” he said this week. Massa is not necessarily lying: Fernández was his campaign chief when he ran for the presidency in 2015.
Macri will also need to do some explaining. Until now, his political narrative was very simple: his PRO party, in charge of the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition, represented everything that is new and cool about Argentine politics, in contrast with theold and outdated past. But now, old-school Peronist Miguel Ángel Pichetto will be in his campaign picture as vice-presidential candidate. So far, the President has only said that Pichetto is, “a patriot who wants the best for Argentina,” and has enjoyed two weeks of market euphoria allegedly triggered by the decision to open his coalition to a cutthroat opposition wheeler-dealer. His ability to bring more Peronists into Cambiemos has not immediately materialised, save a handful of other old-fashioned figures like veteran former president Carlos Menem. Still, the government’s political operators expect this attraction to come to fruition in the near future, before the likely second round and/or after Macri wins a second term. In the immediate, though, it remains to be seen—or picked up by polls—how this loss of differentiation with the opposition may dent Macri’s electoral chances.
Alberto Fernández also has some explaining to do. He was anointed by Cristina Kirchner because he can technically project moderation and seek agreements with certain sectors of the establishment and the general public where the former’s president standing is irreparable. But, until now, he is doing the exact opposite: working on the hardline powerbase where most of their potential votes come from, for instance, by critisicing Clarín newspaper on twitter, the former president’s political antagonist, or explaining and justifying a picture of Cristina Kirchner’s son Máximo with an anti-Semitic media provocateur. If he is going to act just like Cristina would, let us have Cristina instead, some say within the opposition “Frente de Todos” (Everyone’s Front).
More broadly, the political establishment would also need to explain why the country has to vote in a primary in August in which none of the presidential candidacies competing in. The primary system was introduced after a political reform in 2009 by Cristina Kirchner, but in the following two presidential elections only three candidacies were decided by popular vote, all in 2015: Mauricio Macri overcoming Ernesto Sánz and Elisa Carrió in Cambiemos; Sergio Massa over José Manuel De la Sota in the non-Kirchnerite Peronist front; and Nicolás Del Caño versus Jorge Altamira in the left-wing coalition. Pundits and politicians hurried to say the primaries should be scrapped. Margarita Stolbizer, a centre-left politician now siding with Roberto Lavagna, even argued it would help the environment as it would save the paper used to print ballots. But even at their costly 4.5 billion pesos, the debate over whether primaries should take place is futile. Competition may not occur at the highest level this year, but it will be present at lower instances as, for instance, the municipal level. More voting is always better than less, especially in weak democracies like Argentina’s.