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Recalculating Political Competition in Argentina

Recalculating is the desperate word with which the navigator attacks us in the midst of traffic stress. This is how the PASO (Open Primaries for the presidential election) have left us analysts, citizens, and, above all, Argentine political leaders.

After the shock comes the integration of a new situation and the incorporation of new ideas into our horizon of options. There is fear: of the new, of uncertainty, of ungovernability, of the undemocratic. There are three unknowns: How far does the Milei phenomenon go? Are our party system and alliances being reconfigured? What opportunities can we not overlook?

Milei has proven to be a true representative of a Borgesian: “We are not united by love, but by fear”. He managed to bring together the discontent with traditional politics, fortunately through the democratic expression par excellence, the vote, beyond his furious speech and some impracticable promises. Rhetoric or proposal that convinced many.

The first big question is whether he has a chance of being elected president, and if elected, whether his government would be viable. The Milei phenomenon is still only an option. There are still many calculations and rearrangements of forces and speeches to be done to see if he will be the winner. The great doubt is whether his party, Liberty Advances, is a collection of antis, of the status quo demolishers, or if it forms a new substance that can be catalyzed into a viable government.

If Milei does not accede to the presidency, it is partly because he is not trusted, because he cannot establish parliamentary majorities, and because he lacks management and support. Beyond the dissatisfaction, it is necessary to be convinced that he can perform a democratic government, with symbolic legitimacy and enough support to be able to articulate public policies. Discursive bellicosity may be enough to win elections, but it is not enough to govern. Many wonder how Milei would manage the conflict, how he would negotiate with pressure groups, and, above all – a great Argentinean measure -, if he would be able to reach the end of a 4-year term (in long political times).

Parties, alliances, and candidates are recalculating their speeches and strategies based on the PASO results, and considering the possible double round of presidential elections in December. If no candidate obtains 45% of the affirmative votes in the first round, nor more than 40% with a difference of ten percentage points with the second most-voted candidate, a run-off election will be held between the two most voted candidates. It is possible that the anti-political caste vote, protest vote, and anarcho-capitalist vote will not be so strong at the time of the election of a president, where political science foresees that the electorate will run to the center. After all, we can express our fury in the PASO, but when electing the president, the electorate moderates. As the famous English phrase goes, “Be careful what you wish for, it may come true”.

The second issue is the new distribution of votes and candidates.

For generations, Argentina’s social, political, and economic capital to create wealth, security, education, and quality health has been depleted. A country condemned to the friend-enemy duality that so far has not been able to rebound. The dynamics of the Argentine political competition are characterized by what is known as “the crack”: voters are imprisoned by whether they belong to the Peronism or anti-Peronism space.

There is a percentage anchored to each side of the fishbowl, the famous “hard core”. The great and sometimes enormous differences between Peronism and anti-Peronism did not provoke a flight of voters from one side to the other.

The Milei phenomenon shows that, rather than a deep loyalty to one’s own, the rift was dominated by not belonging to the other mode. In other words, we have been prisoners of a rift as constitutive of our political identity by the opposition. Until now, those disappointed with politics saw as options either to reluctantly support the candidates on their side or to stay at home when it was time to vote. These PASO have indeed shown an increase in absenteeism, but also a new alternative. The big change is that Milei proposed an “elegant way out” for the disenchanted.

The dignity of poverty, the vindication of marginality in an impoverished and vulnerable society, is the discourse niche already occupied by Peronism. On the other side, anti-Peronism continues to offer a change that has not proven to be achieved either through gradualism or by being together. Milei installed himself as a proposal of redemption and disruption, and the disenchanted jumped out of their traditional places of Peronism and anti-Peronism where they were stagnant. It is a call to close the ranks of the frustrated.

And the third question is how to react to the message of the ballot box.

It is likely that Patricia Bullrich or Sergio Massa will be the ones to hang the presidential sash. However, let us not forget that politics also takes place in the time between campaigns, and if this time the voice of the disenchanted cannot be articulated, later on, it may work to achieve a proposal that can be voted on, with everything it lacks: alliances in the chambers, clearly democratic proposals that do not provoke fear, political construction, candidates with more experience and more loyal voters. Or simply that it ends up catalyzing the weariness because the other relevant actors do not occupy the space as articulators of the demands for the renovation of politics.

The tree of strategy should not prevent us from seeing the forest of a new reality. The ballot boxes speak and have shown the opportunity for a great change. In a society with 40% of poor people, there are pressing needs, with measures that must be agreed upon because they may need generations to have an impact. The next president, the Congress, and the opposition will have greater opportunities to generate a great consensus on fundamental issues. The new dynamic that has been dubbed “three-thirds” may release the mirror spell of the rift. The call for tangible and even disruptive changes can be harnessed to revitalize institutions, reform the State, help energize the business sector, and diversify the sources of wealth of our country in order to dismantle clientelism. If there is an opportunity to bridge the gap, let it be to change the political dialogue, introduce medium-term issues in the agenda, and organize alliances beyond the rifts between different actors of civil society and politics so that reality does not surprise us by recalculating.

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


BA in Political Science from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), specialization in International Relations, diploma from the INCAP School of Government. Analyst at the Institute for International Security and Strategic Affairs (ISIAE/CARI).


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