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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 11-02-2023 07:00

The ornithology of Frente de Todos and Juntos por el Cambio

Argentina has been locked in a bi-coalitionism over the past several electoral periods, but the novel element this time around is the internal fragmentation of both spaces.

The disconnect between the political classes and the rest of reality is evident in the level of public discourse going back at least all the way through the presidencies of the Fernández-Fernández tandem and the Engineer, Mauricio Macri. Probably further back, but let’s begin with that. 

While the World Cup victory by our Selección and the summer vacations have pushed the political discussion to the background, while criminal trials including those for thee murders of Fernándo Báez Sosa and Lucio Dupuy take the front pages, the political class has been laying the foundations for the incipient electoral period. From figuring out their candidates to raising money for the campaign, their main preoccupations are the 2023 PASO primaries tentatively scheduled for August. Everything appears in flux both for the ruling and opposition coalitions, to the point where recent polls show some conflicting data making it particularly difficult to try to predict what will happen. One thing is for sure though, the role of hardliners pulling the electorate towards more polarised positions will be one of the defining factors, with the likes of Javier Milei, Patricia Bullrich, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s boys all playing key roles.

If Argentina has been locked in a bi-coalitionism over the past several electoral periods, one in which antagonistic groups demarcated by pan-Peronism/Kirchnerism on the one hand, and anti-Kirchnerism on the other, then the novel element this time around is the internal fragmentation of both spaces. Both of what are now called Frente de Todos and Juntos por el Cambio are clearly electoral coalitions that have had a hard time synchronising internal positions in order to effectively govern what is increasingly an ungovernable country. Macri’s leadership was much more “traditional” in its verticality, which ultimately sparked the anger of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) and his other internal allies who felt Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña had become the president’s impenetrable fortress. But Macri still called all the shots, just like Cristina during her two tenures in the Casa Rosada. This is one of the reasons for today’s fragmentation within the opposition coalition. For Frente de Todos, the disjunctive detail was the asymmetric power structure with a vice-president loomed over her handpicked ‘boss,’ and a third wheel that was always trying to mediate between those two. Alberto Fernández never managed to become an effective decision-maker, with the exception of the early pandemic period, while Fernández de Kirchner oscillated between explicit support for her president (as when she sat next former Economy Minister Martín Guzmán when he announced the sovereign debt restructuring with the private sector) and outright bashing (her poisonous letters, particularly after the spectacular defeat in the 2021 midterm elections). Power relations between them have now deteriorated past the point of no return. Thus, both Macri and the Fernándezes failed in their administrations, creating levels of fragmentation that haven’t managed to break their respective coalitions but have definitely created more antagonistic positions.

Interestingly both coalitions have fragmented across the same fault lines: moderates against hardliners, or to use its ornithological metaphor, hawks and doves. Within the Peronists that division is between Fernández de Kirchner and her son Máximo’s La Cámpora political youth organisation, and anything that smells like the president. There’s other factions too, notoriously Economy Minister Sergio Massa’s Renewal Front (as we mentioned a few weeks he’s poised to become the coalition’s candidate as the “best-worst” option to traction as many votes as possible), and a more “traditional” line of Peronism tied to provincial governors. Massa has agreed with the president that they won’t run against each other, essentially giving the economy minister an open lane to convince Cristina to give her blessing. The Kirchnerites don’t have much to offer and if the economy doesn’t go haywire, the man from Tigre could probably run the best election of the bunch, and maybe even have a chance, something that seems extremely unlikely.

Across the proverbial aisle the fragmentation also goes three ways. There’s the PRO party led by the former Boca Juniors president which is itself subdivided into hawks and doves, the Radicals and 'Lilita' Carrió’s Coalición Cívica, and the “Republican” Peronists. While the UCR appears to have abandoned its ticket-leading ambitions and could be content with deputy positions, it’s the power struggle within PRO that has attracted the spotlight. Macri seems to be enjoying himself playing puppet master while Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta awkwardly attempts to position himself as the strongest candidate. For months he’s led the opposition field, but he’s faced tough competition from Bullrich, apparently egged on by Macri. While it’s too early to tell, some figures are giving Bullrich a wide lead over Rodríguez Larreta in the PASO primaries and even in electoral scenarios. Others have Rodríguez Larreta ahead with a narrow lead. Is Rodríguez Larreta the best candidate given his inclination toward moderation and negotiation or will he lose to Patricia’s frontal style and promises of toughness?

A lot of what will happen has to do with the libertarians, especially Javier Milei, who is a dark horse in the presidential race and could compete in Buenos Aires Province with former colleague José Luis Espert, who is expected to lead the space in the province. Milei’s right-wing stance and aggressive rhetoric attracts a certain portion of an electorate that would traditionally vote for Juntos por el Cambio, which is one of the reasons Bullrich has been hardening her stance on key issues. Rodríguez Larreta has already negotiated with Espert in previous elections and there’s talk of some sort of pact with Milei in Province ahead of the “mother of all battles.” Yet the self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist with the crazy hair is still expected to take an important portion of the vote at the national level, though it’ll probably be insufficient for him to make it into an expected run-off but enough to give him substantial influence in its outcome and the successive congressional agenda. The global phenomenon of a return of extreme-right ideologies to the political mainstream is already a reality in Argentina.

As the political class worries about all of this mumbo-jumbo, the rest of society is concerned about sky-high inflation, crime and economic uncertainty. A recent report put out by political consultancy D’Alessio IROL Berensztein puts inflation at the top of the most pressing issues, with 90 percent of survey respondents expressing concern, followed by crime (69 percent), economic uncertainty (67 percent), and a lack of proposals to get out of the current state of stagnation (58 percent). Only after the four most concerning issues do we see politicised concerns such as Kirchnerite impunity for acts of corruption (54 percent) and the issue of social welfare and assistance programs (50 percent).

Let’s hope they pick their horses sooner rather than later and begin to focus on the underlying issues.

Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia

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