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Argentine federalism facing a disruptive president: crisis or opportunity?

Six months into the Milei administration, the reconfiguration of relations between the governors of the provinces and the head of the national Executive indicates the emergence of a “new federal contract” and new bonds of solidarity between governors of different political profiles.

100 days into the Milei administration, the reconfiguration of relations between the governors of the provinces and the head of the Executive at the national level indicates the emergence of a “new federal contract” and new ties of solidarity between governors of different political profiles.

Javier Milei’s assumption of the presidency of the Nation meant a drastic change in Argentine politics. The new president is not only different in the way he communicates with his electorate and the way he exercises power but also in his relationship with the governors. The failure to pass the Ley Bases, a law proposed by the government to structurally modify social relations and substantially reform the state, and the subsequent “rebellion” of the recently elected governor of the province of Chubut, Ignacio Torres -from Juntos por el Cambio, party of former President Macri and member of Milei’s support base — evidenced a process of reconfiguration of the Argentine political map. The use of the term “map” is not random, but is intended to highlight the importance of the political geography of a federal country in thinking about the relationship between presidents and governors and, in this specific case, of the governors of the Argentine provinces with President Milei.

The political dynamics of Argentine federalism in the last two decades have shown a progressive dissociation between what we call “the Nation” and “the provinces”. The election that anointed Milei as president, on the one hand, and the timing and outcome of the various elections of provincial executives, on the other hand, were clear examples of this diagnosis. Faced with a national race that appeared to be polarized and close, most governors sought to protect their territorial political capital by using as a strategy the modification of the sub-national electoral calendar and thus detaching the election in their provinces from the national dispute.

Of the 23 provinces plus the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (ACBA), only in 4 of them, the provincial elections coincided with the national elections (ACBA, Province of Buenos Aires, Catamarca and Entre Ríos). The rest of the 18 provinces established their schedule.

In Argentina, electoral federalism is decentralized, which means that each provincial government has the power (autonomy) to define the dates of the provincial elections, as well as their rules. On the other hand, in Brazil or Mexico, for example, both the electoral rules and the election dates are fixed by the Federal Constitution and are the same for all levels of government. This particularity of Argentine federalism allows us to identify more clearly how political-partisan interests are organized regionally and the dimensions of the conflicts between two orders of government: nation-provinces.

In this context, the defeat of the gubernatorial candidates of the current president’s party (La Libertad Avanza) contrasted with the resounding victory of Javier Milei in the national race. A not minor fact is that Milei obtained significant margins of votes, both in those provinces where he ran for governor and in those where he did not, such as La Pampa, Misiones, Salta, San Luis, and Santa Cruz. With this scenario, we propose to describe the new head of the national executive as a disruptive president.

But, what does a disruptive president mean, and what are its consequences? The concept points to two facts: first, we venture to say that Milei broke the traditional party system, while the governors gained a new role in the national political dynamics.

In these almost 6 months of government, this new scenario is evidenced by the increasingly frequent clashes between governors and the President. Secondly, it is the first time that the intergovernmental confrontation is so direct, consensual, and partisan between almost most of the governors, including those recently elected- and the president.

The trigger for this scenario was not, however, a new cleavage, but takes place within the scope of the dispute between discretionary fiscal resources and the approval of the presidential agenda. The failure to send funds to a debtor province, in retaliation for the governor’s lack of support for the president’s legislative agenda, triggered the collective reaction of most governors, concerned about the possibility of future cuts in their coffers by President Milei.

The governors — even those aligned with the national government — came out in coordination to defend their interests. This collective action, motivated by a common and by no means irrelevant interest, strengthened the bonds of solidarity among sub-national governments and promoted a greater regionalization of the national political map.

By regionalization we mean to emphasize the collective and coordinated nature of the reaction of the provincial governments, rather than the idea of provincialization, which was closer to an individualistic stance and had atomizing effects.

Thus, the League of Patagonian Governors regained strength and national visibility. The governors of Neuquén, Río Negro, Tierra del Fuego, Chubut, Santa Cruz and La Pampa raised the regional flag and defended a common agenda, mainly around their productive sectors such as fishing, oil, gas and other hydrocarbons. It is important to mention that the League of Patagonian Governors is composed of governors from different parties: PJ, Juntos por el Cambio, and provincial parties.

Furthermore, the sending of security forces from the province of Buenos Aires to the province of Santa Fe, governments with opposite political signs, as well as the response of the governor of Chubut, Ignacio Torres, supporting the claim of the province of Buenos Aires due to the cut of fiscal resources by the national government, are two more examples of the cooperative reaction between sub-national governments.

As opportunities for change usually arise in times of crisis, perhaps Javier Milei’s disruptive character is the necessary trigger for the emergence of a new federal contract, based on the construction of horizontal consensus. That is to say, it may represent an opportunity for the re-foundation of Argentine federalism, bottom-up, and the strengthening of solidarity ties among the provinces.

*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish.


Professor and researcher at the School of Politics and Government of the National University of San Martín (UNSAM), Argentina. PhD in political sciences from the Institute of Social and Political Studies (IESP) at the State University of Río de Janeiro (UERJ).

Master in Human Rights and Democratization in Latin America and the Caribbean by the National University of San Martín (UNSAM). Doctoral position of the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) in the Doctorate in Political Science at UNSAM.


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