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ARGENTINA | 07-12-2019 10:29

Defections dramatically shift balance of power in Chamber of Deputies

The 130 deputies elected in the October 27 general elections took their seats on Wednesday after being sworn in for their four-year terms (often with huge deviations from the traditional oath wording), while on the eve of this formality there was a dramatic shift in the balance of power within the lower house.

Despite defeat at the presidential level with no gains in the Senate, outgoing President Mauricio Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio coalition had emerged in October as the largest grouping in the lower house Chamber of Deputies with 120 seats. But in the intervening weeks the Frente de Todos coalition also reached that total, expanding its support from 107 to 120 deputies in that period by picking up stray Peronists, whereas Juntos por el Cambio (which had shed a deputy early on) woke up on Wednesday morning to find their numbers down to 116 after the defection of a trio of lawmakers the previous day.

While doubts about the loyalty of the Radical partners of the coalition are sometim e s e x p r e s s e d i n t h e government’s ranks, all three deputies - Pablo Ansaloni (Buenos Aires Province), Beatriz Ávila (Tucumán) and Antonio Carambia (Santa Cruz) – belonged to Macri’s centre-right PRO party.

Coalition leaders from Macri downwards had harsh words for these deputies for “betraying the trust of the voters” in deserting the list for which they had been elected so soon. But some of the more purist voices in Macri’s circle used the occasion to criticise those who sought to broaden (and thus overextend) the coalition by recruiting non-Kirchnerite Peronists (who include Macri’s running-mate, ex-senator Miguel Ángel Pichetto).

The defecting trio did not jump ship to Frente de Todos but to a newfangled caucus Unidad Federal, formed to give the new Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa (whose Frente Renovador deputies had joined the pan-Peronist bloc en masse) some support of his own – their entry pumps up that splinter from five to eight deputies. Interbloque Federal with 10 deputies (responding to former presidential candidate Roberto Lavagna and Córdoba Governor Juan Schiaretti) remains the third force, while two FIT leftists and one Neuquén Popular Movement (MPN) deputy round out the 257 seats of the lower house with only 21 deputies outside the two main blocs.

The Frente de Todos caucus will be headed by Máximo Kirchner, 42 (who received the loudest applause when he swore in on Wednesday) while his mother will head the Senate, where Alberto Fernández enjoys a comfortable majority of 42 of the 72 senators (including ex-president Carlos Menem) under the leadership of Formosa Senator José Mayans.

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