Argentina’s newly elected lawmakers were sworn into Congress this week, with the power balance shifting in the lower and upper houses ahead of the final two years of President Alberto Fernández's first term in office.
The 127 deputies elected last November 14 were sworn into their seats for the next four years in a relaxed and even friendly atmosphere, with the oldest deputy Daniel Ferreyra (Frente de Todos-Jujuy) acting as speaker until the authorities were formally elected.
"I hope we can all be reconciled," said Ferreyra, using the centre stage to deliver a political message to both the opposition and the government.
Shortly after, Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa was re-elected Lower House Speaker, rapidly taking his place to swear in all the new deputies.
Radical Facundo Manes was in the first batch, followed by Gerardo Milman, Danya Tavela and Fabio Quetglas (all Juntos por el Cambio for Buenos Aires Province) while Miryam Bregman, Fernando Iglesias, Martín Tetaz and Carla Carrizo all swore in for this City.
The leftist Bregman’s oath referred to "30,000 missing and those missing in democracy," for which she was criticised by Iglesias, who said: "I hope that we respect rules for swearing in as established by the Constitution."
Libertarian lawmaker Javier Milei went with Ricardo López Murphy, who pledged his oath with "liberty and the Republic."
It wasn’t just words causing a stir, either. Radical Martín Tetaz (City) drew some complaints by turning up in a simple white T-shirt bearing the legend: “This has only just begun.”
Carolina Galliard (Entre Ríos), also of the ruling coalition, went for the more outrageous “for no more prisoners for planting” cannabis.
Once all the deputies-elect had been sworn in, the House proceeded to elect its authorities. Frente de Todos caucus chief Máximo Kirchner spoke first on the lessons learned during the coronavirus pandemic with his PRO opposite number Cristian Ritondo adhering to his words. Both thanked Massa for his work together with Radical caucus chief Mario Negri and every caucus except Frente de Izquierda backed his re-election as Speaker.
Graciela Camaño, sitting alongside Florencio Randazzo backed Massa but also urged him to pledge himself to sessions every Wednesday: "I’m almost sure that once again we’re going to face the spectacle of only men presiding this House. What’s the use of any system if we do not have the capacity to recognise the political qualities of our female colleagues. I call on every caucus to reflect on this and pick a woman."
Despite her words, all the authorities ended up male - José Luis Gioja (Frente de Todos-San Juan) as first vice-president, Omar De Marchi (PRO-Mendoza) as second and Julio Cobos (Radical-Mendoza) as third.
Milei took some selfies and introduced himself to Congress employees while Espert shook the hand of everybody present while Emilio Monzó and Margarita Stolbizer sat together to launch their brand-new Encuentro Federal caucus.
The upper house swore in its new lawmakers just after midday on Thursday, with 24 new senators representing the provinces of Córdoba, La Pampa, Chubut, Corrientes, Santa Fe, Mendoza, Tucumán and Catamarca taking their seats
Opening the session, Vice-President and Senate chief Cristina Fernández de Kirchner asked the newly elected lawmakers to take the oath of office in alphabetical order,
The swearing in of the new senators was the final step before the upcoming legislative changeover, at which point the ruling party will not be able to reach quorum in the upper house for the next two years.
The most interesting development in the upper house arguably took place in the corridors of power. On Thursday, Radical and PRO party leaders reached an understanding over the identity of the opposition coalition's caucus leader, with Mendoza's Alfredo Cornejo set to lead Juntos por el Cambio.
The agreement contrasts sharply with tensions in the lower house, where Radicalism has split into two caucuses: one led by Mario Negri and UCR Evolución, which will be led by Rodrigo De Loredo.
The minority leader had previously been Luis Naidenoff (Radical-Formosa) for the last two years. The opposition will now have 31 members in its upper house caucus.
In its last session with a majority on Thursday, the ruling coalition approved more than 40 presidential decrees (DNUs), all related to the coronavirus pandemic and labour issues.
Liberals won’t join up
Another new lawmaker catching the eye was outspoken economist Javier Milei (City), who took his seat in Congress with the rest of his La Libertad Avanza bloc.
However, Milei – who drew the eye during campaigning and has drawn comparisons to former US president Donald Trump and Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro – surprisingly confirmed prior to the event that he would not be uniting his bloc in the lower house with the similarly named Avanza Libertad led by fellow-economist José Luis Espert (Buenos Aires Province).
Explaining the decision, Milei said that while the two had “a lot of things in common,” they also had “differences” on some issues.
"In principle we are separate caucuses. That doesn't mean that we don't have a lot of things in common, but we also have our differences. José Luis is a classical liberal, I am a minarchist liberal, so on some points we do not agree", said Milei in statements to Diputados TV.
"We will agree on most things, but that doesn't mean we should be lumped together in a kind of collective when we are champions of individualism," he added.