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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 15-08-2023 14:26

The serpent’s egg

Until now the PASO primary winner has always reached the Presidency or at least the run-off. Does this guarantee Milei a place in the second round with Patricia Bullrich and Sergio Massa fighting it out for the other spot?

Given that Peronism was dubbed fascist in its origins and that Javier Milei’s votes mostly come from inland provinces hitherto Peronist, whereas this City (which was the electoral cradle of this phenomenon two years ago) gave him only half the votes of his national average this time, the conversion of La Libertad Avanza into a popular force has been demonstrated.

Paint it black nowadays – the fear of a ‘black Monday’ for the economy and the cathartic “voto en negro” (“black-market vote”) for Milei to add to the blank ballots of those who decided not to vote. Adding up those “black” and blank ballots shows that half the population voted against the political system. Phrases like “the country we knew how to destroy” (instead of “construct,” as in the Kirchnerite boast) or “let’s see if our passports are up-to-date” are being heard once again.

Until now the PASO primary winner has always reached the Presidency (Cristina Kirchner and Alberto Fernández) or at least the run-off (Daniel Scioli). Does this guarantee Milei a place in the second round with Patricia Bullrich and Sergio Massa having to fight it out for the other spot?

Until Mauricio Macri appeared on the Juntos por Cambio stage to close out their ceremony congratulating Javier Milei, there might have been speculation about the dilemma facing Patricia Bullrich’s strategy: would she shift her rhetoric towards the centre to retain the fidelity of Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s votes or would she deepen her approximation to Milei’s sector? That was not  necessary, Mauricio Macri made the decision for her.

Now there is a further dilemma because if Juntos por Cambio comes to resemble Milei in competition with Sergio Massa, this would give Unión por la Patria the possibility of amalgamating all the sectors rejecting any position perceived as right, along the lines of all the political parties combining in France against the rightist Marine Le Pen.

In that case, for the first time it would not be the classic confrontation between Peronism and anti-Peronism, which would signify a risk for Juntos por el Cambio. Sergio Massa was already on Sunday night beginning to summon the Radicals and other forces from the popular field to a crusade of “us against them.”

If Unión por la Patria manages to categorise Juntos por el Cambio as the same thing as Milei, they might possibly gain the votes of those who never have backed a pan-Peronist candidate. Finally, enlisting “my enemy’s enemies” and constructing a sufficiently numerous critical mass is the art of politics as practised by Mauricio Macri when he reached the presidency in 2015 on the basis of a total of PASO primary votes similar to Sergio Masa’s now, in Macri’s case adding first the votes of his internal rivals and then those of Massa then opposed to Kirchnerism. The paradoxes of history might now permit Massa to follow the same path as Macri then, in this case adding all the Juntos por el Cambio doves, the Córdoba Peronists and the Santa Fe socialists. 

Juntos por el Cambio performed worse than expected and Unión por la Patria proportionately better. A point or two of difference between both coalitions does not seem to represent the critical situation of the national government.

As previously explained, Argentine elections proceed in three stages with PASO primaries, the first round and a possible second, the penalties to which Massa referred when trying to assimilate the government’s future to that of the Argentine national football team in the Qatar World Cup when they ended up champions on penalties.

The Serpent’s Egg is a classic film of Ingmar Bergman, set in the Germany of the 1920s in the midst of hyperinflation and the hurt pride of performing below its expectations after defeat in World War I. That social demoralisation was the serpent’s egg which swept aside the traditional political parties and permitted the emergence of the extreme right Nazi party led by Adolf Hitler, who was then also considered a madman.

The comparison with La Libertad Avanza is unfair. Perhaps Milei can be compared to more modern examples of disruptive leaders like Jair Bolsonaro or Donald Trump but his ideology is more to the right than that of Bolsonaro and Trump.

Argentina is beginning a new political cycle with a virtual (30-28-27) three-way split, which will have to be reformulated into two halves of a run-off or else a 40-30-20 in the first round, in which the leader wins by being 10 percent or more votes ahead.

There are just a bit more than two months to go for the first round of general elections and three months if there is a run-off, equivalent to one or two centuries in the politics of a volatile Argentina.

Even if Javier Milei does not reach the Presidency, the number of legislators obtained by La Libertad Avanza if its PASO vote is repeated in October would position his political party as a heavyweight parliamentary force. That is what Mauricio Macri and Patricia Bullrich are betting on – adding strength in Congress in order not to need any consensus with pan-Peronism, instead obtaining legitimacy for reforms in the eyes of public opinion via consensus between Juntos por el Cambio and La Libertad Avanza. 

According to this logic, even though Juntos por el Cambio had a bad election, Mauricio Macri won because he can add the votes of La Libertad Avanza as his own.

Jorge Fontevecchia

Jorge Fontevecchia

Cofundador de Editorial Perfil - CEO de Perfil Network.

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