Argentina: of electoral coalitions and government collisions

Will the ruling coalition Frente de Todos (Front of All) be transformed into a front of all against all? Will the opposition alliance Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) manage to preserve its unity in diversity? Given this political context, it would seem that in Argentina we are in the presence of a presidentialism of collision rather than of coalition.

A coalition government is usually a group of political parties that agree to pursue common goals, pool resources to achieve them and distribute the benefits of achieving those goals.

In the classical models of coalition governments in Western Europe, as well as in the not so classical ones in Latin America, the distribution of such benefits is carried out vertically, through the distribution of management responsibility for the different state agencies among the members of the coalition.

The distribution of benefits

But how were the benefits distributed within the government coalition from the assumption of Alberto Fernández and the return of Peronism in 2019?

The formation of the Frente de Todos was born from the initiative of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to nominate as candidate for president a leader of extensive experience, although with little territorial power as Alberto Fernández. And she, – unlike what we are used to- nominated herself as his running mate in her condition of natural leader of the space that represents the first minority within the coalition. This was due to the fact that she lacked the capacity to guarantee electoral success on her own: “With Cristina it is not enough, without Cristina it is not possible” ended up being the slogan.

All this generated at the time questions about how the coalition would work, both for the direction of the relationship between the president and the vice-president, as well as for the distribution of responsibilities in the future management among the different actors of the new dominant coalition.

After 18 months of government, the coalition’s management has been characterized by three fundamental aspects. The first was a horizontal distribution of ministries, secretaries, undersecretaries and national directorates. This means that assignments within the administration were based on the coexistence of actors from different coalition groupings.

The second aspect is that this horizontal allocation process also coexists with a particular and unusual accountability scheme from the ministers to their secretaries or undersecretaries and from the head of the executive branch to the vice president of the Nation.

Finally, the conflicting coexistence between different visions on the direction to be taken by the national government is evident among the heads of ministries, secretaries, undersecretaries and national directorates.

The result of this way of distributing responsibilities has been none other than political paralysis, institutional blockage and the absence of a definition of the general direction of the administration. This ranges from the definition of Argentina’s relationship with the international environment, the strategy to contain inflation and the negotiation of the foreign debt, to the strategy to face the health crisis, beyond the orthodox and shared restriction of circulation.

It is a strange paradox when heterodox economists become the most orthodox defenders of the health strategy: the rejection of the economic adjustment coexists with a more than heated defense of the health adjustment.

And the opposition?

A panorama of no less complexity can be seen within the opposition coalition, Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change). There is an absence of national leadership, but there are also different tactics and strategies between the “hard” and “soft” sectors of the coalition in the construction of a message that would give an account, both of the limits of the government experience between 2015 and 2019, and of an overcoming proposal for the future.

Some of the aspects to be faced within this coalition are the need to explore a possible enlargement of the alliance, to carry out a process of reinvention of Juntos por el Cambio – formerly Cambiemos – that establishes new common goals beyond the original ones, or to define a protocol to process conflicts within a heterogeneous alliance.

Collision can be understood as a confrontation between opposing ideas, interests, feelings or between people who represent them. But it can also be understood as the clash between two or more objects in a violent way because they are on the same path.

Will the latter be the inevitable outcome? The traumatic experience of the electoral alliance between the Unión Cívica Radical-UCR and the Frente por País Solidario-FREPASO (1999-2001) would lead us to think so, while that of Cambiemos (2015-2019), between economic failure and political success even in electoral defeat, would lead us to think not. In short, as it usually happens in uncertain contexts, questions abound and answers are scarce.

*Translation from Spanish by Eleanor Gaddy

Photo by Midia NINJA

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