Monday, July 15, 2024

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 21-10-2023 05:51

Expecting every voter to do their duty

While tomorrow’s election is widely seen as a three-cornered affair (like the hats in the times of Trafalgar), all three of its fleets tend to believe that there are only two sides. Could tomorrow’s election echo the battle by ultimately leading to a breakdown of existing alliances with a new Argentina eventually resulting?

If last Saturday’s column began by pointing out that it was the 957th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, today is the 218th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. And what on earth has that to do with tomorrow’s election, one might well ask?

Trafalgar (where the Royal Navy shattered the Franco-Spanish opposition) was fought by three fleets on two sides and less than 30 months after their defeat France and Spain were enemies with historic consequences including the creation of Argentina. While tomorrow’s election is widely seen as a three-cornered affair (like the hats in the times of Trafalgar), all three of its fleets tend to believe that there are only two sides. According to libertarian Javier Milei, both the Unión por la Patria and Juntos por el Cambio coalitions are indistinguishably “caste”; partisans of Patricia Bullrich insist on a pact between the government candidate Sergio Massa and Milei to a point where some cannot see any difference between anarcho-capitalism and Kirchnerism; in the eyes of Massa’s core Kirchnerite vote, both Bullrich and Milei are equally way to the right of Attila the Hun. Could tomorrow’s election echo Trafalgar by ultimately leading to a breakdown of existing alliances with a new Argentina eventually resulting?

All three candidates would dearly like to be Horatio Nelson smashing the other two commanders but one grim detail of Trafalgar is that within half a year all three of its admirals were dead. Nelson himself had his famous “Kiss me, Hardy” death aboard HMS Victory after being hit by a French sharpshooter; exactly six months after the battle the French Admiral Pierre Villeneuve was found dead in Rennes with six stab wounds in his chest, officially defined as suicide; a month previously, Spain’s Federico Carlo Gravina (actually a Sicilian) had already succumbed to a general infection after rejecting amputation of his wounded arm. Could it be that none of tomorrow’s three main contenders have a lengthy political career ahead of them, win or lose? Perhaps or perhaps not – history does not always repeat itself.

Not that the whole world revolves around naval or electoral battles, then or now. Thus not only did the French and Napoleonic Wars overlap with almost the entire adult life of Jane Austen but one of her many brothers Frank was a captain in Nelson’s fleet (missing the battle, however, since HMS Canopus was sent to Gibraltar to replenish water supplies) and yet all those conflicts earn barely a mention in her novels despite numerous army and naval officers in their cast. By the same token millions today will be indifferent to tomorrow’s showdown with other priorities occupying their social networks and smartphones.

Today’s technology is, of course, entirely different from 1805 (or even 2005). Just one detail here to illustrate that – the battle was fought on today’s date of October 21 and The Times (then 20 years old) carried the news in its November 7 edition. What a contrast with today’s news being renewed almost by the second.

One last Trafalgar reference before concentrating on tomorrow’s election within the limits of the veda electoral curfew. Almost as famous as “Kiss me, Hardy” is Nelson signalling to his fleet before the battle: “England expects every man to do his duty.” With tomorrow in mind, this column would like to rephrase that to read: “Argentina expects every voter to do their duty.”

This space cannot tell its readers how to vote (at least not today) but it can tell them to vote. The worse things are, the less excuse there is for not taking a stand. The simplistic argument that all politicians are the same is as ignorant as it is irresponsible. It is untrue for the very simple reason that no individual is ever like another (that is the essence of humanity) while when it comes to the politicians in this election, some of the biggest differences have arisen within rather than between coalitions. Nor is even the individual a neat atomistic unit which can be pigeonholed according to class, gender, religion or whatever with Walt Whitman’s “I contain multitudes” truer than ever today for our increasingly complex and contradictory personalities.

Not that the obligation to vote for politicians absolves them from their responsibilities, entirely abdicated by a vacuous campaign with almost imbecile sound bites replacing any serious platform and insulting the intelligence of 21st century citizens. More mutual respect between the voter and the voted is sorely needed to restore faith in democracy in its 40th year.

The veda electoral curfew hamstrings this column but it could also be a blessing in disguise, given the genuine uncertainty surrounding tomorrow’s election, with respect for the restrictions making a virtue out of necessity. Opinion polls have been banned since last Saturday but even if held today, they could be out of date by tomorrow with as many as a quarter of votes last-minute decisions in the polling-booth – in the best of cases their findings are relative with some pollsters reporting no response from up to three-quarters of their sample. Legal fatwas thus save pundits from risky forecasts even if they also create the problem of how else to fill the column.

Not even the certainty of all being revealed next Saturday since a run-off at presidential level and even in this city is entirely possible although there will be more than enough results to analyse. But the only conclusion for now is to urge readers to meet their civic responsibilities and vote because one day (or rather one hour) of inaction can change the next four years.

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Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys, who first entered the Buenos Aires Herald in 1983, held various editorial posts at the newspaper from 1990 and was the lead writer of the publication’s editorials from 1987 until 2017.


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