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OP-ED | 04-06-2021 22:55

Vaccines and votes – two V-words for V-signs

Everything might seem to depend on vaccines but single-issue politics is unlikely to sway an election conditioned by multiple factors.

Delays in Covid-19 vaccine deliveries became the centre of political debate last week as perhaps never before, with the opposition hammering away obsessively at the point where the government seems most vulnerable and most culpable. But they should bear in mind that this issue could have a limited shelf life as a weak flank – whether or not this country could have had 14 million Pfizer vaccines last November might seem academic come election day this November if over half the population are already vaccinated.

Everything might seem to depend on vaccines but single-issue politics is unlikely to sway an election conditioned by multiple factors. These factors are in turn complex. Thus logic might dictate that an economic malaise running deeper than ever – people in Argentina tend to be dissatisfied with their economic present more often than not but the current pessimism as to the future is virtually unprecedented – would doom the government but it is not so linear. Opinion polls are showing the steep falls in real wages and pensions caused by persistent inflation to be making dents in government popularity but not triggering the massive backlash which might be expected. The scale of state assistance is on a par with the dimensions of the pandemic disaster, thus creating dependence among not only the poorest classes but even various business sectors, while the general uncertainty (centred on the sanitary and the economic but also beyond) makes people turn to the government as much as repudiate it.

Even ahead of winter, everything which could go wrong seems to be going wrong with the second wave swamping what had seemed an automatic economic recovery. Yet incumbent administrations always have a head start in any election and all the more so when government is in the hands of a movement with generations of incumbency under its belt. We have just seen one example of this with Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof extending the franchise to almost a million foreign residents, mostly low-income immigrants who would normally be considered easy pickings for the Greater Buenos Aires Peronist machine. But things might not be so simple here either – lacking the access to social plan dependence of their Argentine neighbours and with their often informal livelihoods hardest-hit by lockdown, these votes could also backfire.

The government is also abusing its advantages in the crucial area of vaccination by ensuring a monopoly of all outlets – several provinces have attempted to buy vaccines on their own account, only to be blocked by red tape, while the normal vaccination centres have been sidestepped in districts where Frente de Todos do not run City Hall. But this monopoly could backfire if it turns into a bottleneck conspiring against electoral success with a persistent pandemic ensuring that vaccination delays continue as a hot issue into spring.    

Yet if the vaccines will not necessarily define the upcoming elections, nor will these automatically be the defining-point of a complex and unstable situation. Reducing future scenarios to an either/or proposition between government and opposition on a single day in November does not resist analysis when looking at a volatile regional context and the developments in countries like Chile and Colombia – the youth component so prominent in the unrest in the latter countries could be well worth watching here, especially since the La Cámpora militants increasingly belong to a previous generation. Upheavals occurring beyond the voting-precinct but which may well also be expressed within the ballot-box, transforming the party landscape.

Despite the dire situation, neither the public health system nor the economy have yet moved from crisis into collapse and the government’s plans ahead of the elections do not seem to extend beyond somehow preserving this precarious equilibrium. But not rocking the boat in such a stormy sea seems alike to be a realistic approach and wishful thinking.

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