Tuesday, June 25, 2024

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 16-12-2023 07:20

Going to the dogs?

This final election 2023 column concludes a series running the length of the campaign – now it’s time to detail the resulting political architecture in the present tense.

Virtually all analyses are being written in the future tense speculating about the increasingly uncertain horizons lying ahead. As the concluding column of this electoral year, these lines propose to write more in the past tense by summing up the verdicts of the 14 weekends of voting throughout 2023 and detailing the resulting political architecture in the present tense.

This series should probably have concluded in the last weekend of November after the final run-off voting but with the change of government just around the corner, it was decided to see in the new administration but no further. The baby steps of the Javier Milei Presidency are the obsessive focus of every analyst but at time of writing there was little beyond an improvised Tuesday press conference with some major omissions begging the question in key areas of public spending. Firstly, we need to see some plans not written in sand as hitherto (who could have imagined Milei talking to the Chinese?) and then we have to see how they clear at least four major hurdles confronting them – Congress, social backlash, provincial governments and the courts. The traditional honeymoon for new administrations is 100 days and it took Carlos Menem (widely seen as the prototype for Milei) over 20 months to find his Damascus moment in convertibility. Too early days to define this government – no point in starting in this final column.

So the aim today is to supply a concrete anatomy of the body politic in this 40th year of democracy. Nobody should need to be told the result at presidential level. On November 29 the Legislative Assembly gave the official tally as 14,554,560 valid votes or 55.65 percent for the presidential ticket of Javier Gerardo Milei and Victoria Eugenia Nair Villarruel as against 11,598,720 votes (44.35 percent) for the duo of Sergio Tomás Massa and Agustín Oscar Rossi, a solid margin slightly trimmed from the run-off night of November 19 when the percentages were 55.69 and 44.31 percent respectively. There were three other presidential candidates in the October 22 general elections and many more presidential hopefuls in the August 13 PASO primary but all unnecessary detail at this stage.

Milei swore in (secretively) last Sunday a Cabinet of nine ministers, which will be divided here into two categories – those in line from the start and those emerging from a somewhat chaotic selection process. Diana Mondino (Foreign Affairs), Guillermo Francos (Interior), Sandra Pettovello (Human Capital) and Guillermo Ferraro (Infrastructure) were predestined for their current posts while Luis Caputo (Economy), Patricia Bullrich (Security), Luis Petri (Defence), Mariano Cúneo Libarona (Justice) and Mario Russo (Health) were all products of the transition period, with the latter only clinching ministerial status at the last minute, being originally subordinated to Pettovello.

Next up for pigeonholing are the provincial governors. Nine provinces (Buenos Aires, Catamarca, Corrientes, Formosa, La Pampa, La Rioja, Salta, Santiago del Estero and Tierra del Fuego) will be starting 2024 with exactly the same gubernatorial face as at the beginning of this year – Tucumán’s Osvaldo Jaldo could be added to this list although, strictly speaking, he was an acting governor at the start of 2023 this year. Buenos Aires City along with five provinces (Córdoba, Jujuy, Mendoza, Misiones and Río Negro) stuck to the same ruling party while changing the head of district – apart from Tucumán, Neuquén could be added to this list because although the Neuquén Popular Movement technically lost the province after six decades, it was a case of the first lieutenant-governor of outgoing Governor Omar Gutiérrez defeating his second lieutenant-governor, who was the official candidate.

This leaves us with seven provinces changing their ruling party (Chaco, Chubut, Entre Ríos, San Juan, San Luis, Santa Fe and Santa Cruz) – less than a third. All seven rate as Peronist losses although Chubut perhaps slightly less so since there was a strong alignment with Massa when he was estranged from Kirchnerism. Chubut and Entre Ríos went to the centre-right PRO, Chaco and Santa Fe were won by Radicals while the other three went to hybrid anti-Kirchnerites (Claudio Poggi of San Luis is even a former Peronist governor) – no libertarian was anywhere close. 

Moving onto the Senate, there is a clear Peronist domination which falls short of a quorum. In October they picked up 11 of the 24 seats at stake, all under the Unión por la Patria label – 22 other senators elected in previous elections place “Frente de Todos” next to their names with varying degrees of loyalty, making for a Peronist total of 33 between the two labels. Of the remaining 39 senators, 20 use the Juntos por el Cambio tag (to which should be added the two Cambia Mendoza senators and the two Corrientes senators) while five identify themselves as La Libertad Avanza (the two Jujuy libertarians use a different nomenclature, giving Milei a total of seven senators). Among other labels, Misiones, Santa Cruz and Santiago del Estero each have two senators responding only to their provincial government (as do numerous Peronists) while Córdoba and Río Negro have one each – going by past performance, five of these eight might be more pro-Peronist while three lean towards the opposition but everything is in a state of flux with none of the above numbers written in stone.

Applying the same exercise to the 257 deputies is even more complex since they respond to no less than 22 different labels. Even narrowing the field to caucuses with at least five deputies, there are nine of these in a fragmented house. The most important are Unión por la Patria (100), La Libertad Avanza and PRO with 37 each (although the Carolina Píparo splinter and José Luis Espert make for a libertarian total of 40) and 34 Radicals, which still leaves 46 deputies elsewhere. Elisa Carrió’s Coalición’s Cívica shifting away from Juntos por el Cambio has six deputies and the FIT leftists five while there are no less than three rival federalist caucuses – nine deputies each for Cambio Federal (under Mauricio Macri’s 2019 Peronist running-mate Miguel Angel Pichetto) and Innovación Federal (grouping four Misiones deputies, three from Salta and two Patagonians) while the Córdoba-dominated Hacemos por Nuestro País has eight seats. Adding up these nine caucuses (which in turn have 17 subgroupings) gives us 250 of the 257 deputies.

All of this makes for far more pedestrian reading than the libertarian raptures or the apocalyptic doom and gloom voiced elsewhere but it gives the bare bones of Argentina’s new body politic – let us hope that it is not reduced to a skeleton. 

(This column concludes a series running the length of the campaign from the first provincial elections in April. The new year will bring a new series but exactly when cannot be pinpointed for now. At least two issues will need to be resolved beforehand – firstly, a theme will have to be found and secondly, this columnist will need to put some minor surgery behind him – but at some point in the first quarter of 2024 for sure. It only remains to thank all readers for their interest and to wish them all possible season’s greetings, including a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – MS)

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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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