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OP-ED | 29-06-2019 11:03

Will the tail wag the Trojan horse?

Rather than leaders of parties, there are now parties of leaders. A prime reason for the failure of the Alternativa Federal of Pichetto & Co was that it was just such a party of leaders without grass-roots.

The definition of candidacies in last weekend’s closure of the lists has only deepened the already prevailing polarisation according to most pundits, but everything has its price – the major fronts have achieved this enhanced polarisation at the price of incorporating potential Trojan horses (or to express it in more 21st century vocabulary, their hard drives have added alien software which could turn out to be worms, a virus or even malware). Assuming this, the question then arises: Who are the Greeks and who are the Trojans? In other words, does the diluted purity of this century’s two main political creations (Kirchnerism and the centre-right PRO), as directly reflected by their presidential tickets, mean that they are being co-opted by more traditional politicians? Or is it the other way round – do these latest moves complete the destruction of the old two-party system by absorbing Peronists and Radicals into newer constellations?

Even if the presidential candidacy of Alberto Fernández seems the more momentous change as defining the top half of the ticket (and is indeed the first time that Kirchnerism has not been nominally headed by the Kirchner surname since its baby steps in 1998 even if the real leadership is an open question), the vice-presidential candidacy of Peronist Senator Miguel Ángel Pichetto is the real game-changer, especially for confirming polarisation. Until a few weeks ago non-Kirchnerite Peronists had presente d a mor e or less united front offering a “third way” between the current administration and the previous – a reloaded version of Sergio Massa (who garnered 21.4 percent for his UNA presidential candidacy in the last elections) since this grouping contained not only Massa but also Pichetto and others. But now that this Alternativa Federal bloc is dispersed across three tickets (with outgoing Salta Governor Juan Manuel Urtubey also becoming a running-mate, under Roberto Lavagna), this traditional Peronism seems to have no future beyond a possible league of governors with such major provinces as Córdoba and Santa Fe confirmed in their hands.

But these questions are not limited to Pichetto and Alberto Fernández or even Massa – there are doubts at all levels as to whether the new recruits are a genuine expansion or whether the tail will not end up wagging the dog. Rather than leaders of parties, there are now parties of leaders. A prime reason for the failure of the Alternativa Federal of Pichetto & Co was that it was just such a party of leaders without grass-roots.

Recruiting such lost leaders should be carefully assessed because they could prove to be toxic assets producing the worst of both worlds – breaking up the coherence of their new fronts without adding many votes. An acid test which is not simple arithmetic. Thus Massa might seem to contribute 21.4 percent of the vote to the Kirchnerite Frente de Todos but most people voted for him precisely to stop Kirchnerism. Pichetto has so few personal votes that he never stood a chance of renewing his Senate seat but he gives Peronists in general and governors in particular (who have enjoyed fiscal surpluses and far more favourable federal revenue-sharing under this government than during Kirchnerism and who would fancy their 2023 chances against it) the perfect excuse to back Macri indirectly at least, thus reassuring the markets as to governability. Macri’s City senatorial candidate Martín Lousteau (the opposition rival in the 2015 mayoral runoff) is an especially complex balance in these terms – a potential Trojan horse for coalition unity who will bring in votes.

This cost/benefit analysis between numerical gain and loss of consistency will be important in what looks like being a hung Congress for a long time – it might well be that amid such loose alliances a small but tightly disciplined party might have more clout than the big fronts. But Argentina remains a highly presidential democracy and hence the key question must be – with the two Senators Pichetto and ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as the vice-presidential candidates of the front-running tickets, will the tail end up wagging the dog (a question which seems more apposite to the latter but which applies to both)?

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