Argentina Elections: Right wins presidency, struggle goes on

On Sunday, Argentina held a runoff election. The candidate of the right wing “Cambiemos” (“Let’s Change”) coalition, Mauricio Macri, beat Daniel Scioli, the candidate of the ruling leftist Front for Victory by 51.4 percent of the vote to 48.6 percent.

Scioli’s loss was by a smaller margin than many had expected, but still, as the saying goes, “a miss is as good as a mile.” The loss of power by the left in a major Latin American country is seriously troubling to progressive people in the rest of the hemisphere; this is not the first, but is by far the biggest country of the “Bolivarian Pink Tide” to be moved back into the column of countries ruled by right wing governments.

Macri says he will settle with the hedge funds which have been demanding full payment on odious debt initially incurred by the bloodthirsty dictatorship of the 1970s and early 1980s, but if he does that he is in danger of undoing the whole financial settlement with other creditors which allowed Argentina to get out of its unprecedented economic crisis of the early 2000’s. Macri has also hinted that he will put an end to the prosecution of members of the former military government which caused at least 30,000 murders and “disappearances.”

The runoff was made necessary when no candidate emerged as a victor in the first round presidential election on October 25. On that occasion Scioli, supported by outgoing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, got a plurality of 37.08 percent versus Macri’s 31.45 percent. That Scioli would get a plurality was predicted by polls, but as it turned out his margin over Macri was much smaller than had been expected by many.

A third candidate, Sergio Massa, from a dissident right-leaning faction of President Fernandez’ Justicialist (i.e. Peronist) Party got 21.39 percent of the October 25 vote, and immediately called on his followers to support Macri in the runoff. Smaller parties made up the rest of the 100 percent in the first round.

The geographical spread of the votes for Scioli and Macri in the runoff tell part of the story of why this happened. In Argentina, the vote of the capital, Buenos Aires, population three million, has often gone to the right. The friction between Buenos Aires and the rest of the country has to do with the capital’s links to international trade, which today means transnational monopoly capital. Macri is also mayor of Buenos Aires.

However, this time Buenos Aires province, beyond the capital, also went for Macri, even though Scioli is its governor as well as head of the Justicialist (Peronist) party. So his loss of his own province may have more to do with his own tenure in that position than national policy issues, in which President Fernandez de Kirchner, who was term-limited out of this year’s presidential running, had received much popular support. She and her husband and predecessor in the presidency, Nestor Kirchner, are credited by many with rescuing the country from a disastrous financial situation and sovereign debt default at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Scioli was selected as the candidate of the Front for Victory via a complex primary process. But as governor of Buenos Aires Province, he evidently did not generate enough enthusiastic support to carry his own province in the elections. Macri says he will continue progressive social policies of the Kirchner governments but at the same time favor international corporate interests, while breaking away from the “Bolivarian” movement and aligning the country once more with the United States against Venezuela and other left-led countries. His party favor’s Argentina’s membership in the Alliance of the Pacific, a U.S. dominated free trade grouping.

Serving Argentine and transnational capital while serving the people is going to be impossible; the ability of the outgoing government to meet the needs of workers and the poor was based on its break with the neo-liberal Washington consensus of free trade, privatization, deregulation and austerity, and its willingness to resist the demands of creditors. So on the face of it, Macri’s promises to maintain progressive pro-people policies appear to be demagogic, bait to get working class and poor voters to vote for him against their own interests. Macri is himself a big business figure associated with the international and Latin American right. One of his first moves was to call for leftist Venezuela to be suspended from participation in the MERCOSUR trade bloc, which echoes the demands of right wing groups in Venezuela and continent-wide.

How Macri’s programs will fare in the Congress is yet to be seen. His own PRO party, part of Cambiemos, holds only 41 seats in the 257 seat Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the legislature. In contrast, the left wing Justicialists and the Front for Victory of outgoing president Fernandez de Kirchner hold 117. Dissident Peronists have 38 and the historical enemies of Peronism, the Radical Civic Union, have 45. Thirteen seats are held by other small left of center parties. In the Senate, there is a similar breakdown. The leftist Front for Victory also won 11 of the country’s 23 provincial governorships, while Cambiemos won only four.

So President Macri will face a lot of resistance within the political structures as well as on the streets. The implications of this election result are nevertheless very serious. Of the Bolivarian “pink tide” countries, Argentina comes fourth after Brazil both in population (41.5 million) and second in overall economic strength. So this is a blow to the left overall.

Next up are legislative elections in Venezuela on December 6. That is going to be a very significant battle also.

Photo: Daniel Scioli, the ruling party presidential candidate, delivers his concession speech to opposition candidate Mauricio Macri in Buenos Aires, Nov. 22. Ivan Fernandez | AP



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.