Friday, January 27, 2023

ARGENTINA | 21-10-2017 10:12

Editorial: The midterms are more than a binary choice

A quick commentary on the polarised picture generally painted.

Unless the idea is to be crudely partisan, any editorial seeking to advise voters on the eve of tomorrow’s midterm elections is always going to run the risk of stating the obvious, although in this case the obvious seems to be more self-evident in some aspects than in others. Thus simply urging people to vote is pretty redundant because the law stipulates compulsory voting (even if enforcement of the legislation is lax in the extreme).

Yet far less self-evident is the nature and purpose of these elections, which are to renew half the Lower House and a third of the Senate – a basic fact which seems not to have been grasped by the enlightened caste of pundits for the most part, never mind anybody else. Tomorrow’s election is widely billed as a showdown between the previous and current presidents and their respective models but even though the former is indeed a senatorial candidate tomorrow and even though campaign coverage has largely revolved around this axis, this is far from being the whole picture.

To repeat the obvious, these are parliamentary, not presidential elections so that the criteria for success and failure are more diffusely complex. Tomorrow’s election has been widely presented in “all or nothing, winner takes all” terms but in point of fact the presidential run-off is the only scenario whereby an election becomes a zero sum game. Tomorrow night there will be hundreds of winners (something like 100 new deputies entering the Lower House) – indeed thousands at all levels of national, provincial and local voting. Every list participating in tomorrow’s voting should consider itself a winner of the August PASO primary because they cleared the 1.5-percent threshold – some of these will be falling by the wayside tomorrow but any grouping earning a parliamentary voice has the right to count itself among the winners.

And that should be just the start if there is to be any progress toward parliamentary democracy. Ideally there should be a sense of mutual obligation between the representative and his or her voters – the latter should take more interest in for whom exactly they are voting, while the former should develop a deeper sense of accountability. An ideal dear to the heart of an English-language newspaper accustomed to Anglo-Saxon parliamentary democracy perhaps – having a party list system rather than single-member constituencies definitely conspires against any accountability. Those elected tomorrow will doubtless mostly fall into line on either side of the “grieta” divide or enter Congress under labels corresponding more to one-man or one-woman shows more than real parties but the citizenry should not be passively rubberstamping the choices of party headquarters – parliamentarians should be going to Congress with greater pride and self-respect and capacity for independent thinking with a truer representative ethos.

But having thus presented the ideal, a quick commentary on the polarised picture generally painted. Just two things here. On the one hand, a stronger government emerging from tomorrow’s elections would be beneficial in many ways because Argentina has traditionally suffered from periods of weak presidency. But on the other hand, in an over-centralised country with a hyper-presidential democracy empowerment often goes to the heads of governments, leading them to levels of ambition (“hegemonic” is the word frequently used) which disrupt the separation of powers so essential to democratic health. Tomorrow’s voter should consider both sides before deciding but not stop at this simplistic choice, looking at the ballot paper beyond the names and faces to cast a fuller vote.

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