The recent legislative elections in Argentina gave the opposition alliance, Juntos por el Cambio (translated as Together for Change), nearly 42% of the votes at the national level, while the ruling Frente de Todos (Everyone’s Front and peronist party) obtained approximately one third of the votes. Had this been a presidential election, the opposition would have come close to a first round victory. But beyond numbers, this election has left three fundamental facts: the opposition’s triumph at a national level, the loss of the majority by the ruling party in the National Senate and the “pyrrhic defeat” of the ruling party in the province of Buenos Aires.
The opposition won in 15 of the country’s 24 jurisdictions (23 provinces and the Federal District, the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires). In 13 of the 15 jurisdictions, Juntos Por el Cambio—the alliance led in the past by former President Mauricio Macri—won, including two fundamental ones, such as the province of Buenos Aires and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (CABA), the other two remaining electoral districts were in the hands of provincial parties.
Another significant fact is that the ruling party has lost control of the National Senate, presided over by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. In the next legislative period, the government will have to negotiate with other players to obtain the quorum (37 senators) that will allow it to control the legislative agenda.
In spite of the government’s “epic comeback”, what it obtained was a “pyrrhic defeat” in the province of Buenos Aires. The greater role played by the municipal mayors in the elections was key in the results, compared to what they had during the primary elections, largely due to their greater commitment to the provincial administration. It is also noteworthy the participation of the dissident peronist Florencio Randazzo, who with 4% of the votes obtained by his group Vamos con Vos, contributed to the opposition triumph, as he did in the 2017 legislative elections.
What factors explain the opposition triumph?
There are three main factors that could explain the opposition triumph at national and subnational levels. First, an anti-officialist vote that wasn’t necessarily seen at the global level, which is partly due to a bad sanitary and economic performance relative to the world’s average. Second, the national government’s poor performance in areas such as health, education and economy, reinforcing the anti-government climate. And third, the renewal of the electoral offer by the opposition in large districts, especially in the capital and in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe and Cordoba.
In relation to the anti-government climate, the defeat of the ruling party in Argentina reflects pronouncements against the officialism in other geographies, such as those that took place in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru during the presidential elections and the constituent elections in Chile.
In relation to poor health, education and economic practices, these were manifested in a prolonged closure of public and private activity with a direct impact on education and one of the worst macroeconomic performances.
Regarding the electoral offer, the political participation of new characters in the opposition lists, including Carolina Losada, Facundo Manes, Martín Tetaz as well as historical figures like Ricardo López Murphy, allowed oxygenating the opposition coalition.
What happens from now on?
In electoral terms, a unified and consolidated opposition with a renewed electoral offer is a real challenge for the government. It is important to remember that this is an unprecedented situation, since the opposition, defeated in the 2019 elections, did not have an internal process that would lead it to rupture—although the problem of the leadership of the opposition coalition itself is pending resolution.
An even greater challenge is that of the incongruity of a government coalition, conceived itself against nature. The coalition Frente de Todos came to power without having resolved a set of differences and tensions. Its 2019 triumph allowed the Argentine officialism to sweep under the rug all those pre-existing differences.
But this electoral defeat of Peronism puts all those tensions back on the table, just as it happened during the days immediately following the September primary elections. This year, when Argentine democracy celebrates 38 years of uninterrupted validity—the longest period of political stability since the beginning of democratic life in 1916— the electoral campaign is over. From now on, a new stage begins, that of Argentina in a permanent campaign.
In spite of all, democracy in Argentina seems to be “the only game in town”, remembering that happy expression of the American political scientist Adam Przeworski, and this is, undoubtedly, a reason to celebrate.
Translation from Spanish to English by Ricardo Aceves.