Monday, July 22, 2024

ARGENTINA | 24-07-2021 00:00

Of hats in the ring and Olympic rings

Argentina’s dominant coalitions should not be complacent since they need to watch not only their backs but also their sides in the PASO primaries – in both political and geographical terms.

In these moments the focus is very much on things both great and small – the great being the start of the Tokyo Olympics with yesterday’s grand parade of 205 countries (both great and small) and the small being today’s deadline here for registering candidacies for November’s midterm elections with all the petty infighting behind the scenes. But as an Argentine newspaper it is the duty of this editorial to concentrate on the latter, even if small is not always beautiful.

Today’s definition of the line-ups for the September 12 PASO primaries was preceded by those primaries being held across the Andes last weekend with surprise results across the political spectrum. The shape of things to come here? Perhaps but absolutely no guarantees. A key factor explaining the surprises in Chile was a turnout of around 23 percent, a turnout which would consolidate the status quo here since the diehard supporters of the two previous presidents do not number much more than a quarter of the electorate and they are the ones keenest on voting. Yet such a low turnout does not seem on the cards here because voting is compulsory (the last letter in PASO stands for obligatorio). If the two dominant coalitions continue to crowd out all other strands, it will thus not be by default.

With majority abstention not a scenario, this leaves a huge vacuum making this year’s electoral process so unpredictable that it might well even end up being predictable. The electorate can roughly be divided into four quarters – just over one quarter consisting of the two extremes of the famous ‘grieta’ rift, another quarter or so with all those utterly alienated from politics and the other two quarters (or somewhat below a half) vaguely identified with the middle ground. So whither that decisive middle ground?

If the political establishment could emerge almost unscathed from the “begone with them all” fury of the 2001-2002 meltdown, they must fancy their chances of surmounting the current disenchantment. A mediocre and dysfunctional political system with some of the worst pandemic results in the world (both in sanitary and economic terms) nevertheless looks more solid than six decades of totalitarian rule in Cuba or three straight decades of economic growth averaging four percent annually in pre-pandemic Chile. Strange that a political system should be so static in such a volatile country – perhaps the two things feed each other.

Nevertheless, the dominant coalitions should not be complacent since they need to watch not only their backs but also their sides – in both political and geographical terms. Geographic because the political alignments are anything but federal – for the Frente de Todos government everything revolves around Greater Buenos Aires, whereas the Juntos por el Cambio opposition could hardly be more centralised from the way City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta has dictated candidacies all along the line so that all the other provinces seem little more than an afterthought. The pundits are almost unanimous about Buenos Aires Province being the key battleground and yet it accounts for only 35 of the 127 seats in November – are the remaining 92 seats really so irrelevant?

Two coalitions firmly rooted in Buenos Aires Province and City and commanding the unconditional loyalty of a quarter of the electorate are more or less taking it for granted that at least 80 percent of the voters throughout the country will obediently fall into line. Such confidence might well be justified but there remains a huge vacuum which can be filled in various ways and patience can always snap, not least among youth denied a future. Nor is this vacuum only an amorphous middle ground – any left worthy of the name should count on enormous potential after such a steep economic plunge as last year while the opposition needs to watch a libertarian fringe seeking more drastic answers to such an extreme crisis, not to mention outsiders like the ne(ur)o-Radical Facundo Manes.

Impossible to enter into any details about the candidates for reasons other than space with some already defined but others pencilled in with many still up in the air. But as from today with all the candidates defined we can only hope that the focus will switch firmly to the issues rather than electoral strategies – the economy (with no rational policies offered by the government nor any real alternative offered by the opposition), inflation in particular, the job creation which has been lacking for a decade now, constantly rising poverty, crime and so many other woes. The campaign starts today.   

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