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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 17-06-2023 06:10

Toward zero

This is an election in which anything could happen – and also nothing, as is occurring in province after province. Pseudo-change in San Luis and a rock-solid majority in Tucumán attest to an underlying provincial continuity at all odds with a volatile national scenario.

The reader of today’s column will enjoy a huge advantage over its author in knowing exactly how the alliances panned out at witching hour on Wednesday (or at least have the means of knowing, given the growing disinterest in politics among the general public) – the various stages of the publishing process require midweek submission of this column as part of the timetable, although exceptions can always be made in extreme cases of news bombshells. With none expected in the closing hours of the countdown while at the same time last-minute negotiations usually throw up surprises making any exact forecasts impossible, a full analysis will have to await next Saturday’s column. Since the only news at the time of writing was the rebranding of the ruling coalition Frente de Todos as Unión por la Patria, this space can merely offer a facetious suggestion in place of serious study – if the opposition primary is resolved in a certain direction, could the choice facing voters in October be Unión por la Patria versus Unión por la Patricia?

While comment on the most important electoral development of the week is premature, there is plenty to fill this column from last weekend between a government triumph in Tucumán, an opposition gain in San Luis, PASO primaries in Mendoza and legislative midterms in Corrientes plus a sprinkling of Córdoba town halls.

Although San Luis has the smallest electorate of these provinces (the only six-digit population among them), it will be given pride of place for producing the most dramatic change in the form of ending four decades of Peronist rule. All highly relative, though. If the only other incumbent defeat in the half of provinces voting so far has come from a lieutenant-governor of the old regime (Rolando Figueroa, ex-Neuquén Popular Movement), San Luis went one better with a governor from the old regime. If four decades running of Peronist rule in San Luis were not also 40 consecutive years of the Rodríguez Saá surname, the exception to the latter rule was 2011-2015 governor Claudio Poggi – precisely last Sunday’s winner now running on the other side of the fence for Juntos por el Cambio with the backing of a fratricidal Senator Adolfo Rodríguez Saá against the candidate of outgoing Governor Alberto Rodríguez Saá. Victory for a united opposition plus a five-term ex-governor (and the five best terms of that régime too) or six of the previous terms against four sounds more like a no-brainer than an upset.

Briefly digressing from this province, it might be asked why there was such a disruptive uproar within Juntos por el Cambio opposition ranks over the incorporation of the ultra-prudent Córdoba Peronist Governor Juan Schiaretti and no fuss at all over alignment with the author of the wildly irresponsible and destructive 2001 default (Adolfo Rodríguez Saá).

Wrapping up San Luis with a statistical summary, it was a highly polarised election with over 99 percent voting for the two main lists and 97.2 percent for the two leading candidates – 53.25 percent for Cambia San Luis (52.9 percent for Poggi with the rest for an internal rival) as against 45.79 percent for the Peronist Unión por San Luis (44.3 percent for ex-judge Jorge Fernández and the remaining crumbs for three other Peronists) while two leftist lists had less than one percent of the vote between them. Fernández garnered two percent of the vote more than Alberto Rodríguez Saá in 2019 or 6,000 more votes in a lower turnout (71 as against 77 percent) yet lost.

The Tucumán landslide was not so much the percentage as the size of the margin. Peronist Osvaldo Jaldo (who could almost be considered an incumbent since he ran Tucumán in 17 of the last 48 months while outgoing Governor Juan Manzur was national Cabinet chief) won 56.3 percent of the vote, or not so much more than Poggi, yet was over 20 points ahead (when the Peronist campaign managers had been forecasting 15) of the runner-up – Radical deputy Roberto Sánchez with just over 34 percent despite a potent running-mate in the person of outgoing ex-Peronist provincial capital mayor Germán Alfaro (whose ability to hand over City Hall to his wife Beatriz Avila was nevertheless in doubt at press time with her vote trailing when the count was suspiciously suspended). Yet perhaps the most potentially significant result came from beyond the over 90 percent voting for the two mainstream candidates – the meagre 3.9 percent accruing to the libertarian standard-bearer Ricardo Bussi as against his 13.8 percent in 2019, which would imply that Javier Milei’s support was worse than useless. Could all those opinion polls highlighting Milei as the joker in the pack be wrong (which would not be the first time) and is the roaring lion no more than a paper tiger? Yet nationalising the results of provincial results is often dangerous and all the more so when the national scenario of Frente de Todos (sorry, Unión por la Patria) collapse and Juntos por el Cambio disarray leaves doors wide open for Milei. This is an election in which anything could happen – and also nothing, as is occurring in province after province.

The pseudo-change in San Luis and the rock-solid majority in Tucumán attest to an underlying provincial continuity at all odds with a volatile national scenario which warrants further scrutiny. Tucumán’s high turnout of 83.7 percent would seem to contradict the general impression of political disenchantment. Elections cost money and Tucumán had already blown its budget up to its original May 14 election date when it was postponed by the Supreme Court disqualification of Manzur but a timely advance towards midyear aguinaldo bonuses from the national government solved that problem. Apart from funding, electoral supervision is especially sensitive in Tucumán as a populous but not highly urbanised province – no less than 23 percent of its population live in communities with less than 1,000 inhabitants where the opposition have no scrutineers and it may or may not be a coincidence that Jaldo beat Sánchez by more or less that percentage (22.3 percent).

Broader factors favour the perpetuation of what is often called feudalism nationwide. More than the direct graft of vote-buying (which was evidenced last Sunday) is the longer-term dependence on public employment – in no less than 13 of the 23 provinces provincial employees outnumber the private sector. Curiously enough, the inflation which is so devastating nationwide is on the side of provincial governments because it grants almost all of them fiscal surpluses by diluting their spending.

The Mendoza PASO primary and the Corrientes midterms were not on the same scale and warrant less space – not least with the lack of interest shown by their own voters with 34 and 43 percent respectively giving their civic duties a miss. In Mendoza its 2015-19 Radical governor Alfredo Cornejo is in pole position with 42 percent for his Cambia Mendoza list as against 20 percent for PRO dissident Omar De Marchi but with an unexpectedly low share of that 42 percent (26 percent) because of a strong performance from Radical deputy Luis Petri who outpolled all four Peronist gubernatorial hopefuls with 15.7 percent between them (of which only six percent for La Cámpora and their Senator Anabel Fernández Sagasti, who nevertheless topped their primary). The Corrientes midterms seemed and were a landslide for the Radicals with nearly two-thirds of the vote and 11 of the 15 seats at stake but in 2019 Radical Governor Gustavo Valdés had set an even higher bar with almost 80 percent of the vote.

Tomorrow Chaco holds its PASO primaries with the province ablaze over the disappearance and presumed femicide of the daughter-in-law of veteran picket leader Emerenciano Sena whose family is now under arrest – the electoral consequences are anybody’s guess. Massive marches were continuing in Resistencia as this column was being concluded with no indication of their conclusion – such are the hazards of a midweek column published on Saturday.

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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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