Presidential, congressional and provincial elections were held in Argentina on October 23, 2011.
The President of Argentina is elected to a four-year term, renewable immediately once. Argentina’s runoff rules are a bit strange: a presidential candidate must win over 45% of the vote or win over 40% of the vote and lead his/her closest opponent by a margin of at least 10%.
The Congress has two chambers; the 257-seat lower house (Chamber of Deputies) and the 72-seat Senate with 3 members for each one of the 23 provinces and the Federal District (the city of Buenos Aires). This year, 130 members out of the 257 members of the lower house were up for reelection in all 24 provinces+DF. The elections are played out by party-list PR. 24 out of the 72 senators were also up for reelection in the provinces of Buenos Aires Province, Formosa, Jujuy, La Rioja, Misiones, San Juan, San Luis and Santa Cruz. The party list winning the most votes wins two of the three seats, the runner-up takes the last seat.
Gubernatorial elections were also held on October 23 in the provinces of Buenos Aires, La Pampa, Entre Rios, Formosa, Jujuy, Mendoza, San Juan, San Luis and Santa Cruz. Earlier this year, a whole series of provinces had held gubernatorial elections. In the end, only Corrientes and Santiago del Estero did not hold gubernatorial elections.
Argentine history and politics have been marked by Peronism, a “unique” ideology whose influence has outlived its creator, Juan Perón. Peronism is a diverse movement, and it stretches from the right to the left. Some Peronist Presidents have embraced neoliberalism, others have been mortal enemies of neoliberal dogma. Thus it is hard to give one single definition of Peronism besides saying, pretty obviously, that is a populist movement with a traditionally statist view of the state’s role in the economy. Juan Perón was a charismatic (demagogic?) populist army officer who deftly expanded his base outside the army (where he had many rivals) to capture the sympathies of Argentina’s poor working-classes, shunned by all politicians. His social policies won their support and turned Perón into a working-class hero. While Peronism was definitely born on the left, under Perón himself the movement slowly emerged towards populist conservatism. In his second stint in power, Perón turned against the revolutionary left and his successor, Isabel Perón was influenced by the right-wing Peronists. It didn’t keep her from running the country into the ground and forcing the military to overthrow her in favour of one of South America’s most thuggish military regimes. Peronism returned to power in 1989, when Carlos Menem was elected President (and reelected in 1995). Menem broke with the cherished statist principles of the movement when he fully embraced neoliberalism.
Despite the success of Menem’s neoliberal policies in cutting inflation and boosting economic growth, spending remained high and Argentina’s debt kept growing. It all exploded during the economic crisis between 1999 and 2002, which led to Argentina defaulting on its foreign debt. The President who took office following a tumultuous 2001, Eduardo Duhalde slowly restored the country’s economy. In 2003, Duhalde backed little-known Santa Cruz governor Néstor Kirchner to replace him, and Kirchner was elected after Menem dropped out before the runoff which would have opposed him to Kirchner, a left-wing Peronist. Kirchner took advantage of the gradual economic recovery in Argentina and cemented his power, to the dismay of Duhalde who had wanted to use Kirchner as a tool to plot his return in 2007. Instead, Kirchner had the upper hand over Duhalde and imposed his choice of successor, namely his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who won by the first round with 45%. In office, Kirchner built a ‘party’ of his own, the Front for Victory (FPV), officially a faction of the Peronist Justicialist Party (PJ). Kirchnerism or left-wing Peronism rejects the Menem-era neoliberalism (which hasn’t kept Menem, now a Senator, from opportunistically backing the Kirchnerists when the wind is nice), instead favouring industrial developmentalism. It also opposes multilateral and bilateral free trade with the US and the FTAA agreement.
Cristina’s presidency has been marked by some ups and downs. Shortly after taking office, Cristina ran into a major conflict with the agroexport sector and right-wing factions of her Peronist majority when her government increased export taxes on soybeans and sunflowers (before reversing course). Her majority divided between the left-wing Kirchnerist FPV and the right-wing Peronist ‘Federal Peronism’, the FPV lost its congressional majority in 2009. But since then she has remarkably rebounded, thanks in large part to Argentina’s impressive economic growth (8% in 2011). She also benefited from an outpouring of sympathy after the death of her husband Néstor Kirchner. He had been said to be eyeing a return to the presidency this year.
The opposition to Kirchnerism is divided. One the one hand, there are the conservative right-wing Federal Peronists whose most prominent leader is former President Eduardo Duhalde. Duhalde has been at war with the Kirchners since 2005 or so, when it became clear that Kirchner was cementing his power and wasn’t looking to Duhalde to succeed him in 2007. But Federal Peronism itself is not united. Duhalde does not have full control over the right-wing of the PJ. His main rival in this field is Alberto Rodríguez Saá, the PJ governor of San Luis since 2003 and 2007 presidential candidate (7.6%). His brother Adolfo had run in 2003 and had served as President for a few days in 2001 and has served as Senator since 2005. Rodríguez Saá is insanely popular in San Luis, which is very much their personal fiefdom. Alberto Rodríguez Saá had won 68.2% of the vote there in the 2007 presidential election.
The other opposition to Kirchnerism is the liberal Civic Radical Union (UCR), Argentina’s oldest party founded in 1891 as the political vehicle for Argentina’s urban middle-classes in opposition to then-dominant rural landowning conservatives who ruled Argentina until the UCR’s Hipólito Yrigoyen won the 1916 elections. The UCR has managed to survive the tumults of Argentine politics in all that time since 1916, which is pretty remarkable. It has always been an opponent of Peronism, because Peronism is poorly received by Argentina’s wealthier urban middle-classes which the UCR is allegedly the party of. The UCR’s Raúl Alfonsín was the first democratic President of the country following the military junta, in office between 1985 and 1989. But since that time, the UCR as an opponent to Peronism has been wracked by its own string of dissensions, internal squabbles and a general lack of talent. In 2009, the UCR formed a short-lived electoral alliance with Elisa Carrió’s liberal urban Civic Coalition (CC), which fell apart because everybody hated Carrió, the runner-up in the 2007 presidential elections with over 20% of the vote. This year, the UCR nominated congressman Ricardo Alfonsín, the terribly uncharismatic son of former President Raúl Alfonsín. Alfonsín has had trouble deciding whether he should attack the Kirchner machine from the left or the right, finally opting for the right.
The opposition to Kirchnerism is also left-wing. The Socialist Party (PS) has never been a fan of Peronism despite the ideological similarities of the two. The PS had unsuccessfully worked to create a working-class base for itself to sneak up the middle between the UCR and the conservatives, but Perón totally destroyed that when he took the votes of the working-classes for himself and turned them into Peronists. These are the historical roots for the enmity between the PS and Peronism. These days, the PS is basically a socially liberal and economically centrist party whose actual ideological differences with the FPV are scarce (as are ideological differences between the FPV and any other of the opposition parties). The PS’ candidate was Hermes Binner, former governor of Santa Fe and mayor of Rosario. Binner was a popular and competent governor of Santa Fe and had the best image of any of the main opposition candidates.
A novelty in this election was the organization of “simultaneous, open and mandatory primaries” on August 14 for all offices up for election on October 23. The theory behind the primaries was to get the parties to have an internal contest to nominate their candidates in the style of a traditional primaries, in the style of Washington state’s “jungle primary”. But Argentina’s political parties are empty shells and not actual political parties. A lot are ephemeral personal vehicles and politicians in Argentina couldn’t stomach losing a primary, so the August 14 primaries were “mock elections” because the main candidates for president and other offices had no opposition. In the primaries, covered here, Cristina won 50.1% against 12.2% for Alfonsín, 12.2% for Duhalde and 10.3% for Binner. The result had been a huge victory for Cristina, whose reelection was never put in doubt after that. It was also a striking blow for the whole opposition, which failed to get one of its contenders to truly step out of the pack as the most credible contender against Kirchner in order to create some sort of anti-K opposition coalition. The presidential election thus wasn’t much of a race because Cristina, after her primary landslide, was ensured reelection unless she was caught killing a baby or something.
The race was more interesting on the sidelines, with the opposition candidates moving around in the polls. Duhalde collapsed, Binner stepped out of the pack and moved upwards a bit, Alfonsín and Rodríguez Saá fell back a bit. It would have been hard for any of these main candidates to drop out like Elisa Carrió (3.2% in the primaries) did, because in Argentina each party has its own single, separate ballot paper with its candidates for president, Congress and other downballot offices all listed. Therefore, if a voter wants to vote for one party for president but doesn’t support its congressional slate, he play origami with his ballot and cut out the congressional list from that party’s ticket cut out the congressional list from another party’s ballot and so forth. A presidential candidacy thus boosts a party’s chances of downballot success, and a lack of a presidential candidacy hinders the party’s downballot chances.
The results are as follows for President with 98.25% reporting:
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (FPV) 53.96%
Hermes Binner (Progressive Front-PS) 16.97%
Ricardo Alfonsín (UDESO-UCR) 11.85%
Alberto Rodríguez Saá (ACF-Federal Peronism) 7.98%
Eduardo Duhalde (FP-Federal Peronism) 5.89%
Jorge Altamira (FIT) 2.31%
Elisa Carrió (CC-ARI) 1.84%
As expected, Cristina won reelection by a massive landslide. Since her husband’s death and the 2009 midterm setback, Cristina has managed to impose her authority over her coalition and has benefited a lot from Argentina’s very favourable economic situation. With nearly 54% of the vote, she has won one of the biggest victories in Argentine electoral history, ranking up there with Perón in 1951 and 1973, or Yrigoyen in 1928. Cristina did best in the poor, rural, conservative and reliably Peronist isolated northern provinces where she won upwards of 60% in most cases and up to 82% in Santiago del Estero. She also did well in Patagonia, most specifically in her husband’s province of Santa Cruz where she won 74.8%. She was weaker in wealthier central Argentina, winning only 37% in Córdoba for example. However, a good part of her victory comes from the province of Buenos Aires which is Argentina’s most populous province and a key political prize for anybody who wants to win. Much had been made of the defeat of the FPV list led by Néstor Kirchner in the province back in the 2009 midterm elections, because Buenos Aires had been since 2003 a key political base for the FPV which performs strongly in the poor working-class hinterland surrounding the capital. Apparently that 2009 result wasn’t any long-term trend, because Cristina did very well in the province: 56%. And she truly destroyed her opponents (60%+ showings) in the Peronist hinterland of the capital.
Hermes Binner did well, winning nearly 17% of the vote, which is up from the 10.3% he had won in the primaries. He was the most well-liked of all the opposition candidates, he had a good record as governor of Santa Fe and he was the most credible of the opposition candidates. Binner did best in Santa Fe, where he won 39% to Cristina’s 42%. He won his hometown of Rosario by a narrow margin. He also did well in neighboring Córdoba, Entre Rios, the province of Buenos Aires and the federal capital. He was the strategic choice of the affluent urbanites of Buenos Aires and the capital’s affluent northern suburbs, voters which had voted for Duhalde in the primary but who chose Binner in the general election. Binner won the three very affluent comunas of northern Buenos Aires, but in the city as a whole, traditionally very anti-Peronist, Cristina repeated her primary exploit by winning the capital with 35.1% to Binner’s 27.8%.
Ricardo Alfonsín did only slightly poorer than in the primaries, 11.9% versus 12.2% in August. He had the widest base in terms of geographical distribution of support, polling a distant second to Cristina in a lot of the more rural and conservative (but hugely Peronist) provinces in the far north or in the wealthier rural areas of central Argentina. But Alfonsín’s candidacy never really took off. He is totally uncharismatic and, as is usual for the UCR, has had trouble deciding where he stood on the issues. He sought to ally with the left while running with some neoliberal economist as his running mate, which backfired rather badly. The UCR is dead at a presidential level because it has no politicians with talent and national ambitions.
Rodríguez Saá won 8.2% in the primaries and 8% in the general election. As expected, he won big in San Luis, with 51.5% to Cristina’s 31% in the only province which has never voted for a Kirchner. But in his home province, his support has declined a whole lot since 2007, when he won 68% in his home province (and 7.6% nationally). This means that his loses in San Luis were compensated by stronger showings outside there, mostly in the provinces which neighbor San Luis. His biggest gains came in Mendoza, where he won 20.3%, up from 4% in 2007. Cristina’s running-mate in 2007, Julio Cobos, had been the governor of Mendoza and he brought a big personal vote on the ticket in 2007 (60.9% in 2007 for Cristina, 50.8% this year) which disappeared this year, in part because Cobos broke with Cristina’s government and aligned with the opposition forces.
Eduardo Duhalde collapsed. From 12.2% to 5.9%. His primary showing had been considered very weak for a guy who was widely perceived by most of the opposition as the only one who could defeat Cristina. After his weak primary showing, his artificial support from the anti-Peronist sectors totally collapsed. He only reallt saved face in Chubut, where he won 16.5%, because it is the home province of his running mate, former Chubut governor Mario Das Neves. His vote in Buenos Aires, both the city and province, seems to have flowed in large part to Binner who won, as I said, those affluent neighborhoods of the capital which Duhalde had won in the primary.
It is hard to break down legislative elections in Argentina because coalitions and parties are very loose and they differ from election to election and from province to province. This being South America, a lot of politicians are whores who will back whoever it is in their best interests to back, regardless of ideology. This means that, for now, Kircherism is a good thing for them to support. However, if like in 2009 Kircherism isn’t so profitable, then they’ll drop them without any second thoughts.
The bottom line is that the FPV have won back their congressional majority, lost in 2009. Don’t ask me the detail by party, because I have no clue. This website has broken down the 130 new legislators and 27 new senators by the candidate they backed. Kirchner (FPV) allies won 85 seats, Alfonsín (UCR) won 15 seats, Binner (PS-progressives) won 14, Rodríguez Saá (PJ dissident, right) won 6, Duhalde (PJ dissident, right) just 2 and Carrió’s CC just one. 7 did not back any candidate, 3 of whom are apparently 3 PRO (right-wing liberals) member in the capital and the rest being provincial parties which probably were close to Kirchner or will be close to her in the future. In the Senate, her allies won 15 seats against 3 apiece for Alfonsín and Rodríguez Saá, 1 for Binner and 2 others (including Menem, who ran on a provincial slate in La Rioja which supports Kirchner without being FPV). La Nación has given us the following numbers:
Kirchnerism (FPV) and allies 135 seats
UCR 41 seats
Federal Peronism 29 seats
FAP (PS) 21 seats
PRO 11 seats
CC 7 seats
Others 13 seats
Kirchnerism (FPV) and allies 38 seats
UCR 17 seats
Federal Peronism 10 seats
FAP (PS) 4 seats
Others 3 seats
A majority in the Chamber is 129 seats, and 37 seats (or 36) in the Senate. While the FPV itself has 116 deputies, but there are 19 official FPV allies which are from provincial outfits which are the FPV by another name. The FPV and its allies have won in pretty much every province besides San Luis and Tierra del Fuego. In the province of Buenos Aires, with its 35 seats and traditionally the most symbolic congressional contest, the FPV won a landslide with a bit less than 57% of the votes. In 2009 in the same province, the FPV list led by Néstor Kirchner had been dealt a symbolic blow by placing second with 32.2%.
In the Senatorial contests, the most interesting race was in the province of Buenos Aires where the defeat of Duhalde in the presidential contest led to the defeat of his wife and incumbent Senator Hilda Beatriz González, whose list placed fourth with 7.4%. In the primaries, her list had placed second with 13.3%, which would have ensured her reelection if those had been the final results. In La Rioja, Carlos Menem, one of those whores who is not officially a Kirchnerist but acts like one when it is profitable, was reelected, placing first with 35.4% (his slate was the ‘Riojan Popular Front’) against 33.8% for the FPV. In San Luis, Adolfo Rodríguez Saá’s slate (Federal Compromise) won 60.8%, ahead of the FPV which won 28.7%.
The FPV’s candidates won all gubernatorial elections held on October 23 besides that in San Luis, where the Federal Peronist candidate backed by outgoing governor Rodríguez Saá won easily.
The most important race was in the province of Buenos Aires, governed since 2007 by Kirchnerist Daniel Scioli. His main opponent was Francisco de Narváez, a Federal Peronist congressman and the man who had ‘defeated’ Néstor Kirchner in 2009. de Narváez was the candidate of the UDESO, the makeshift coalition formed by Alfonsín. Scioli was easily reelected with 55.1%, a tad less than what Cristina won in the province. de Narváez won 15.87% and Margarita Stolbizer, the 2007 runner-up and Binner’s candidate won 11.7%.
The closest contest and the most important one besides Buenos Aires was Mendoza. Former UCR governor Roberto Mendoza (1999-2003) sought to regain his old territory, which he had failed to do in 2007 (winning less than 10%). His main opponent was the FPV’s Francisco Pérez and Luis Rosales, the candidate backed by Rodríguez Saá. Their government is incompetent, so I can’t find results, but Pérez apparently won easily by around 10% or so.
There was one important municipal contest, in the affluent municipality of Vicente López in the greater Buenos Aires area. Vicente López has been governed since 1987 by Enrique García, currently FPV but an opportunist who whores himself to whoever is in power. He was defeated by Jorge Macri, the cousin of Mauricio Macri, the PRO mayor of Buenos Aires (city). Macri, backed by Duhalde’s coalition, won 38.3% against 34.2% for the FPV (García).
The government has the support of pretty much every governor in the country. Only the city of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Corrientes and San Luis are governed outright by the opposition though a case could be made that Chubut’s PJ governor is also in the opposition. During the year, the government picked up the governorships of Catamarca and Río Negro from the UCR.