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ARGENTINA | 27-10-2022 19:22

Battle-lines drawn as ruling coalition ally presents bill to eliminate PASO primaries

Four lawmakers normally allied with the government make first legislative push to cancel next year’s PASO primaries; Opposition coalition vows to block move in Congress.

Argentina’s politicians are gearing up for a legislative battle over the fate of next year’s PASO primary elections after four lawmakers submitted a bill to Congress proposing their elimination.

The initiative, submitted by four deputies who normally act as allies of the ruling coalition, would cancel primaries for next year’s general election in order to “save” the country an estimated 22.5 billion pesos.

According to the text of the bill, the official aim of the proposal is to "finance programmes and policies at the national and provincial levels, in areas which certainly require state support, distributing these funds according to the criteria corresponding to federal revenue-sharing."

It suggests the cash saved be redirected to a "special fund for the policy of strengthening the fight against addictions" and a "fund for strengthening the payment of basic benefits for people with disabilities."

The proposal – which was submitted just hours after the government’s draft 2023 Budget bill was approved early Wednesday morning – was filed by Juntos Somos Río Negro deputy Luis Di Giácomo and backed by three other lawmakers from the Provincias Unidas caucus: Agustín Domingo, Diego Sartori and Carlos Fernández. The caucus usually acts as an ally of the ruling Frente de Todos coalition although it is primarily a federal voice for the interests of provincial governors.

The bill’s next step will now depend on the will of the ruling coalition to move it through the committee stage.


Support – and rejection

Speculation over the fate of the PASO primaries has escalated of late, with several high-profile politicians backing the idea of their cancellation.

​​Interior Minister Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro, speaking Thursday, said that he is in favour of eliminating the PASO, declaring that “this is what the majority of governors and mayors" within the ruling coalition want.

In a radio interview, De Pedro said that discussion over the primaries should be public, though “100% of the [ruling coalition] governors have expressed their support for not holding four elections a year." He said that "the argument of war and pandemic" was just cause for cancellation.

However, he said that it would be ultimately up to the President to decide.

"We are a presidential system, the presidency is unipersonal, the one who makes the decisions is the president, Alberto Fernández, and that is why tensions are generated and discussed publicly, because most governors and mayors want to convince the president of the idea they have," he said.

Earlier this week, President Fernández said that he is in favour of PASO and that he is willing to stand in a Frente de Todos primary to decide next year’s presidential candidate.

Other leading figures in the ruling coalition, such as former Frente de Todos caucus chief Máximo Kirchner, have indicated they are open to discussion about repealing the primaries.


Opposition outrage

The opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition reacted strongly to the new bill, confirming they would not back any move to cancel next year’s primaries. 

"Four allies of Kirchnerism finally presented the bill cutting out PASO. They know that they are going to be beaten at the polls and they react by going against the rights of citizens. They are afraid of the voice of the people. We will fight to defend democracy," said Mario Negri, the head of the Radical caucus in the lower house, in a post on Twitter.

Other leading figures – including Facundo Manes, Rogelio Frigerio, Cristian Ritondo and Martín Lousteau – also voiced their rejection.

"NO to the repeal of the PASO. It is an institutional outrage, a political shortcut and a smokescreen to hide the country's real problems", said Manes while fellow-Radical Senator Lousteau accused the government of seeking to "manipulate all the institutional tools in order not to lose power because they know that the majority of Argentines have already decided that the time of the Ks is up."

According to a survey carried out by the Jorge Giaccobe consultancy firm, based on a poll of 2,500 respondents, 58.9 percent of Argentines are in favour of retaining the PASO primaries, with 23.4 percent supporting suspension. Just over 17 percent said they did not know.



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