After endless debate, weeks of campaigning, and a coronavirus pandemic-induced postponement, Argentina finally heads to the polls tomorrow for the 2021 PASO primaries.
After a flat yet strongly polarised campaign – in which both of the country’s main coalitions trained their fire firmly at the other – voters across the country will head to the ballot box to decide which candidates will run for office in the upcoming midterms.
The primaries will be a crucial test for President Alberto Fernández, with the country set to go to the polls for legislative elections on November 14, when citizens will renew a third of the Senate and half of the lower house Chamber of Deputies.
Despite him not being on the ballot, many analysts feel the results of this Sunday’s election can be read as something of a plebiscite of his management to date. Others, however, have cautioned that the results may not be so clearcut to read.
This is the first time Argentina has gone to the polls since the lives of voters was turned upside down in March 2020, amid the arrival of Covid-19. Frustration, some analysts warn, can be expressed in many different ways.
Most experts expect the election to be marked by strong polarisation between the two main coalitions, as has been the case in recent years.
In both this month’s ballot and the upcoming midterms, most eyes will be on Buenos Aires Province, Peronism’s traditional heartland of support and home to a third of the electorate, and Buenos Aires City, where the opposition centre-right Juntos coalition is in control. However, races in the provinces of Santa Fe (where Peronism is not held to a single list), Tucumán, Neuquén and Córdoba are also drawing attention. Those races in particular could heavily influence the make-up of Congress, affecting the government’s ability to make and pass legislation.
The election will take place against a recent backdrop of economic turmoil. After registered a steep 9.9 percent decline in GDP in 2020, for the most part due to the coronavirus pandemic, Argentina’s economy is gradually recovering, though the country is still struggling with runaway inflation. According to the most recent government data, prices have increased by 51.8 percent of the last 12 months. They rose 29.1 percent from January to July this year alone.
Whatever the result, analysts will have a close eye on the markets come Monday morning, especially Argentina's unofficial so-called 'blue dollar' which is now something of a benchmark for Argentina's ravaged economy.
After surging as high as 188 pesos per greenback midweek – a new record this calendar year – the unofficial rate was trading at 183 to buy and 186 to sell on Friday.
President Alberto Fernández has spent the last week defending his time in office, while reasserting his criticism of the opposition. The Peronist leader warned in a notable op-ed this week that citizens face a stark choice between “two models” at the ballot box on Sunday.
"We are facing two clearly opposed models for the country that look at people’s problems in a different way. And understanding the dimension of the discrepancy is central to building the future," the president wrote in an article published on the Infobae news portal.
In the article, headlined “The 100th Day,” the Peronist leader defended his government’s time in office and stressed that since he was sworn-in on December 10, 2019, the country enjoyed only "99 days of normal health" before the coronavirus pandemic arrived.
“The rest was basically putting an abandoned healthcare system on its feet and facing contagion from an unknown virus. All of our original plans were turned upside down because the priorities were suddenly different,” he argued.
Slamming his predecessor Mauricio Macri, Fernández argued that the pandemic, coupled with “the resounding failure of the government that preceded us should be reason enough to explain so much uncertainty."
“It is evident that we had to face the sum of two crises: the one derived from the pandemic and the one generated by the previous government,” wrote the president.
Fernández said this week that the government is committed to generating a lasting economic recovery.
"All estimates show that when this year ends, Argentina will have grown more than seven percent," he wrote.
María Eugenia Vidal, running for the opposition coalition in Buenos Aires City, this week urged porteños to head to the polls in large numbers next weekend in order to “stop Kirchnerism.”
The former Buenos Aires Province governor, now running as a candidate for deputy, told voters while on the campaign trail that it is important not to give in to “resignation” ahead of next Sunday’s PASO primaries.
"We ask everyone to go and vote this Sunday because resignation is the worst way. When you lower your arms and you stand still, that's when they run you over and take you on. This is an election to stop Kirchnerism," declared the opposition Juntos candidate during a walkaround with voters.
During a radio interview while campaigning, Vidal argued it is key to halt any further advance for the ruling Frente de Todos coalition in both chambers of Congress.
"This election is measured by the number of deputies and our objective is that Kirchnerism does not have a majority in the chamber of deputies. In [Buenos Aires] City we have the challenge of renewing 10 deputies, [so] we must obtain 60 percent of the votes. It is the most difficult and challenging election and that is why I decided to be a candidate in this district," she explained.
The PRO party politician, speaking while visiting the neighbourhoods of Mataderos, Liniers, and Villa Soldati, also encouraged voters to brush aside claims that polling stations could be focal points for Covid-19 contagion.
Buenos Aires City Health Minister “Fernán Quiros and his team have worked hard to guarantee sanitary protocols in all schools,” said the former governor, who repeatedly said that “voting is safe.”
The former governor is facing a challenge for a congressional seat from ex-economy minister Ricardo López Murphy, running for Republicanos Unidos on a split opposition ticket.
The other key race for the opposition is taking place in Buenos Aires Province, where former City deputy mayor, PRO’s Diego Santilli, faces a challenge from neurosurgeon Facundo Manes.
The performance of Santilli, a key ally of Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, will be read by many as a proxy for the moderates within the opposition coalition and perhaps even for the City mayor’s presidential hopes in 2023. A poor performance against Manes – and the Frente de Todos ticket headed by Victoria Tolosa Paz and Daniel Gollán – could gain momentum for the so-called ‘hawks’ or hardliners within the opposition coalition ahead of the midterms in November.
– TIMES with agencies