Learning Argentine Politics

2011 is a massive election year for Argentina, where we will see votes for almost every administrative level. Most importantly, we have the national General Elections on October 23rd, including the presidential. Secondly, all but two of the provinces are holding gubernatorial and legislative elections this year, which began in March with Catamarca (provinces can set their own election dates), though about half of the provinces are holding theirs on general election day. Finally, there are elections for the departamentos and partidos – which are the secondary levels of provincial governments (essentially US counties), and for municipalities. Phew!

This past Sunday was the second round of mayoral elections for Buenos Aires (the autonomous city, not the province). Much like Washington DC, BsAs does not belong to any province and relinquishes certain aspects of power to the national government and federal authorities; the city elects a mayor instead of a governor and is run by a city-level legislature. Unlike Washington DC, however, the Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires has national senate and congressional representation. Argentina employs a run-off voting system for some of the major elections, essentially using a formula of percentage of total votes. A second round is held if the lead candidate doesn’t reach the threshold, pitting the top two candidates against each other. Though it’s not a particularly complex formula, the details make my eyes bleed if I think about it too much. I’ve often wondered how this method would work in the US on a widespread level.
The first round of elections for the new Jefe de Gobierno was held several weeks ago, with 17 candidates. That’s right: diecisiete different people, each representing a different party. No one received the magic number of votes to avoid the run-off, so Mauricio Macri, the incumbent, and Daniel Filmus were left to square-off on the 31st of July.

Macri won.

Petty Political Fights: A Bit About Macri and Filmus

The feud between Mauricio Macri and Daniel Filmus has been going on for several years- they ran against each other in the 2007 mayoral election, with Macri winning  61% of the votes in the runoff. Macri, from the right-wing PRO party, is the opposition to the Kirchner party Front for Victory, and hasn’t had the most constructive relationship with  la presidente. Daniel Filmus has run as the officially sponsored candidate of the Kirchners, though he is not technically a member of FpV. Say, what? It took me a second to figure out how that works…
Sometimes, in my US dual-party control mindset, I forget about the existence of multi-party systems. Like the reality show Survivor, Argentina’s political parties (of which there are a ridiculous number) are keen on forming alliances. Instead of having several large, disorganized parties that can’t seem to get anything accomplished (the Democrats and Republicans, anyone?), they have lots of smaller factions that form flexible coalitions and act as a larger, multi-unit party. The small parties would be largely incapable of effective campaigning and governing on their own were it not for the alliances, just as two (or three) large parties suffer from in-fighting and fragmentation.

I would like to add that it doesn’t matter what party you are a member of, everyone but the Radicals calls themselves a Peronist.

Back to Macri and Filmus. Macri is a businessman at heart, having held top positions in several companies. He gained notoriety for presiding over the popular La Boca football club, and was once kidnapped (seriously, look it up!). Filmus is an academic and the current Minister of Education. He is also known for his involvement in communism as a youth.

President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner and her party can barely hide their distaste for Macri. The national government definitely appears threatened by him, though I am not entirely sure why. The ruling party has only suffered two major defeats in this election season. FpV has a considerable amount of national representation, particularly compared to partido PRO, yet good ol’ CFK releases polls claiming her campaign is unscathed. One of the funniest post-election quotes I read is from the Chief of Staff Aníbal Fernández, who said, in light of his party’s loss in the runoff-

“This makes us the first political force nationwide and the second largest force within the City of Buenos Aires, a district that was always adverse to us.”

Interestingly enough, this city has a history of voting for mayors in the party opposing the ruling government. What is most interesting to me is that on the streets everyone talks shit about Macri. Even I, in my limited understanding of Argentine politics, could discern that a lot of porteños don’t think he did anything for the city in his first term. Some of the bigger complaints against him are transportation management and the lack of solutions for the city’s increasing levels of poverty. Also, in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t scenario, it is that the national government set up a 20-day indigenas protest camp to irritate the entire city, thus forcing Macri to look like a bad guy by removing them (and by not dealing with the situation fast enough). This, though, is just speculation and the public may never know if the protest was legitimate (I think it was).

Yet, there were clearly enough people who voted for him to beat the national candidate. Fernando had me laughing pretty hard last night with his rant on the porteños voting habits. He claims the city can barely lead themselves, “always going the wrong way… Not only do we go against, but like the Titanic we go downwards.” I’ll let you guess who he voted for.

So, Macri crushed Filmus despite all the money and effort the government put into Filmus’ campaign. And presidente CFK is behaving like she was slapped in the face. Oh, Argentina- I am having so much fun being immersed in your political atmosphere without worrying about my personal voting agenda… That is, when I’m not pulling my hair out trying to get a better grasp on your complexities.

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5 thoughts on “Learning Argentine Politics

  1. It’s a little more complex than that. I wouldn’t mind giving you a heads up on the subject but I’d rather do so in Spanish, if yours is good. Maybe we should stick to these comments? Anyway, let me know if you are interested. I promise I’ll be short and concise in my explanation.

    • I am still trying to make sense of it here and I would love to hear what you think. Politics everywhere are complex, particularly for a non-native with minimal political science background, and I could use a crash course on the current Argentine situation! My spanish is rather lacking, but if you are more comfortable with that I can make do as long as you don’t mind my responses being in english (or poorly spoken spanish).

      • Alright. I don’t mind responses in english at all :) I’ll stick to english when discussing general matters as much as I can.

        So uhh… where to start. I really don’t know a thing about you since I was linked to this blog a couple hours ago, but if you have some spare time I’d recommend history, of course. You’ll do well with just the latter half of the 20th century. Just make sure whatever you read covers Peron. This is a must because politics in Argentina are directly related to peronism: it’s been, up to this point, for or against it. Truth be told, it’s even more complicated than that.

        Peronism is not just a (very diverse) political party; rather, it should be conceived as a social phenomenon. Peronism has no defined political views: it’s not right wing, nor is it left wing. Furthermore, peronism today is not what Peron used to be when he was in government. Peron was a nationalist, he had a welfare state policy, and did a lot for the working class. Today’s peronism revolves around “asistencialismo” and peronist “aparatos” (aparatos peronistas) which I’ll briefly explain now.
        “Asistencialismo” es una forma de gobernar por la cual el estado toma medidas que benefician a las clases bajas pero que no hacen nada, en fin, por mejorar su condicion. It’s, in my opinion, akin to charity: doesn’t do much for you in the long run.
        “Aparatos peronistas” are more difficult to explain. El peronismo siempre recurrio al voto del obrero. Peron fomento la creacion y el fortalecimiento de los sindicatos y los gremios en Argentina. Fue crucial en la creacion de la Confederacion General del Trabajo (CGT), y el peronismo de hoy tiene lazos fuertes con la Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina(CTA).
        La mayor cantidad de obreros de todo el pais se encuentra en la provincia de Buenos Aires, en el conurbano de la Capital Federal. Lo que explico a continuacion, lo de los punteros, es casi exclusivo de esta provincia.
        In Argentina, we have what we call “punteros” peronistas. These people have a measure of power within a barrio or partido (in a kind of mafia way, if you will) and they are the ones who gather people for peronist rallies, protests and so on. These “punteros” are almost always related to gremios, sindicatos, or peronist political candidates. Long story short, these “punteros” get stuff for the people, and they in turn support the candidate their “puntero” works for. That’s how peronism gets so much support in all elections (Yesterday’s results deserve a different explanation, I’ll cover another day).

        That was the elementary basics, just to get you started. I’ll add in something else and then I’m done for today. Peronism is currently divided in two factions: FPV (Cristina’s party), and the “Peronismo Federal”, the strongest figure for this party being ex-president Eduardo Duhalde. El FPV seria, roughly, de centro-izquierda, mientras que el Peronismo Federal es claramente de derecha.
        Peronism has always been a party for the working class, so how do you explain Macri is a peronist? I picture a Republican in my head when I think of him. The answer is this: in order to get such support in the 2007 elections, Macri allied himself with Duhalde’s peronist faction. In exchange of support once he was in government, Duhalde would lend him his “punteros” support. In my town (La Plata), for example, PRO-party candidates for mayor were included in Duhalde’s “boleta”.

        I cannot stress enough how shallow this analysis is. Peronism is a much more complex political and social phenomenon and there’s a lot I don’t figure out about it yet. Some other time I’ll explain to you what happened after Peron was deposed and he was proscribed. Just before I go, I feel I have to clarify something else: firstly, Marxism, and communism to a lesser degree, are more tolerated in Argentina than in the US. It’s not as pejorative a term here. Secondly, Filmuns ties to “communism” are not such: Filmus may have been a part of the “Juventud Peronista”, which had close ties to “Montoneros” an extreme left-wing party spawned from Peronism in the 60s and 70s that waged a guerilla war against the state (along with the Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo -ERP-) during the late 60s and up to 1974.

        Well I hope I was able to help. Some other day I’ll cover Montoneros and the rest of the Peronism spawn that ranges from extreme left to extreme right wing. Sadly I know next to nothing about that. At least I will be brief then.

      • Peronism as a blanket term for almost every political candidate was the most confusing to me, though you defining it as a social phenomenon helps to straighten that out. Many, many articles weren’t enough to make it clear to me the differences between original and modern Peronism. I couldn’t figure out what it was that rubbed me the wrong way about Macri- he appeared inconsistent and reminded me very much of the money-grubbing politicians in the US, both Dem and Rep, that say yes to whomever will get them votes. Maybe it was Macri’s jumping on Duhalde’s platform to gain the advantage that bothered me, and you seeing him as a Repub is spot-on in my opinion.
        I understand that many in the US are overly sensitive to the term “communist” and/or “socialist”. That being said, I’ll expose my own political views and admit that I am a social and fiscal liberal and generally distrust the vast majority of Republicans. I do not share that reaction, and I wasn’t trying to imply that Filmus is/was a whackjob because of his brief involvement in what we in the States would call communist. I really admire Argentina’s commitment to the working class, and I strongly support unionization of all sectors; unions are truly despised in corporate US and oft derided by people who don’t understand how they could benefit from unionization ( which pisses me off).
        I am very excited to be here to witness this monumental election year- despite the challenges, I am learning far more by being immersed than I ever could from reading articles. You have certainly shed some light on this topic for me, and I would love to keep discussing Argentina politics with you.
        Now, I need to go find myself a book on Argentina’s modern political history!

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