*** The following is a guest post by:
Natalia Del Cogliano @NatyDelCo
Mariana Prats @MarianaPrats
Political Scientists. Natalia Del Cogliano is PhD candidate in Political Science at the National University of San Martín (UNSAM). Mariana Prats is PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA)/Sorbona Paris I. Teaching assistants, researchers and CONICET scholars. Both have worked in governmental positions and different international and national academic institutions.
Argentine Midterm Elections: Signals to the Government and Gestures for the Future.
Since the primaries on August 11, the legislative campaign was rocked by an unexpected development: just 19 days before the general election, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had to undergo surgery. Accordingly, Argentina held legislative elections on Sunday, October 27, with the most relevant political player prevented from governing and from taking an active part in the campaign.
Despite this and some other developments, the day before the election, the political landscape hadn’t changed much since August. As in 2011, the results were a foregone conclusion; the uncertainty that had characterized the primaries was now a missing factor. Polls witnessed only small changes and, as a consequence, many citizens conceived the act of casting their ballots (which is compulsory) a mere formality.
We weren’t expecting important electoral shifts. But politics is always exciting, even more when the political consequences of the election hinge on minor shifts in the vote and when the presidential succession of 2015 begins to take shape (either by the emergence of potential future candidacies or by a shift in the congressional composition).
Last Sunday, half of the Chamber of Deputies (127 seats) and a third of the Senate (24 seats) were up for election. According to polls released just nine days before the election, in the most relevant districts the electoral margins between the two main lists of candidates were expected to be wider than in the primaries. The polls predicted that the ruling party would suffer losses. The one area of uncertainty was the size of the margin of victory between the winner and the runner-up, which would send important political signals about the pulse of the electorate.
Aside from some tights races, the results confirmed the electoral forecast provided by the Open, Simultaneous and Compulsory Primaries (already identified as a “national general poll”). In general terms, the results showed that there was a considerable percentage of the electorate unhappy with the national government; such citizens opted for candidates of the opposition, and for parties governing the provinces. These parties are mainly concentrated in the biggest districts (the ruling Frente para la Victoria –FpV- was defeated in the five most densely populated districts).
In Buenos Aires (the most relevant district both in political and electoral terms) the FpV suffered a major setback. A Peronist and former Kirchnerist, Sergio Massa (party Frente Renovador, 43.92%) beat Martín Insaurralde (FpV, 32.18%) by almost 12 percentage points, more than the polls had predicted. These results confirmed that the FpV is having difficulty handling and keeping the provincial peronist aparato on its side. Having this key district in electoral terms (also a traditional source of presidential candidacies) undoubtedly is a good starting point for Massa’s presidential projection as the leader of the peronist opposition.
The results in the city of Buenos Aires were also disappointing for the President’s party. There, where the right–wing party PRO has ruled since 2007, the opposition (PRO and UNEN –a center/center left alliance-) won 10 of the 13 seats at stake for the Chamber of Deputies. The FpV kept the remaining 3. Since this was not a surprising result, the real news was for the Senate. There, the FpV was fighting hand-to-hand with UNEN for the third Senator (according to the limited vote electoral system, two Senators belong to the party that gets the majority of the vote and the one left goes to the runner-up), but lost it by 4.5 percentage points.
Finally, in Santa Fe, a province worth mentioning for its importance regarding the 2015’ scenario, the Frente Amplio Progresista (FAP) won an indisputable victory by more than 15 percentage points over the runner-up (Union PRO). This consolidates the provincial leadership of the socialist Hermes Binner, who was a relevant presidential candidate in 2011 and may still be a key figure in 2015.
At the same time, electoral figures revealed that the ruling party (FpV) still retains the majority of the national electorate, even after 10 years in power The FpV received 33,15% of the national vote, winning in 13 of the 24 districts, and coming in second in seven other districts. Consequently, although its support is considerably less than the 54% it received in the presidential election of 2011, it still retains the absolute majority in both chambers: 132 out of 257 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 36 out of 72 in the Senate.
Another import dimension of the election was the surprising success of the political left. The Frente de Izquierda de los Trabajadores (FIT) received more than 5% of the national vote, thus obtaining three national deputies. With this result, the left returns to Congress after an eight-year hiatus.
Aside from Massa and Macri (the chief of government of the City of Buenos Aires), who were both victorious in their respective districts and have since expressed their intention to run for the presidency in 2015, it is still hard to predict who will be the FpV’s presidential candidate. The overwhelming electoral victories of the FpV in the provinces of Chaco and Entre Ríos render their governors viable contenders for the presidency in 2015. Likewise, the governor of Buenos Aires, who ran the campaign in the province, appears as another possible option, despite the negative electoral results in the district.
Notwithstanding all this, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner still has two years left in her term and maintains a governing majority in congress. It remains to be seen whether the president will listen to the polls and act accordingly. We do not know what the strategy will be after the electoral defeat – whether her party will make some changes or simply implement “the model” with renewed vigor. If Cristina listens, she may be able to recapture some lost votes and even broaden the base of support of the FpV (as she did in 2009 after another major electoral defeat). This will also depend however on the candidate she nominates as her successor.
A highly relevant event that politically defined the aftermath of the election was the Supreme Court’s declaration of the constitutionality of the media law that Congress passed in 2009 and that has been the subject of a long-running legal battle. This can be read as a triumph of the national government just two days after an electoral setback in many relevant districts. Needless to say, such an important development has already taken the focus out of the electoral results, thus overshadowing (at least for a while) both the recent victories and the defeats. This however, is the subject of another post.
 The Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), the Frente Amplio Progresista (FAP) and Proyecto Sur are all part of this alliance. They made up three lists of pre-candidates that competed in the primaries in the City.