The Peronist government of President Alberto Fernández suffered a hard defeat this Sunday (12), in the Argentine primaries for the legislative elections. Although the vote in practice defines only which candidates can compete in the election, to be disputed on November 14, the result is considered a thermometer of the federal administration.
The counting was closed this Monday morning (13). In the end, the main opposition force, the center-right coalition Juntos, won 40.02% of the vote at the national level —confirming the lead that was taking place on Sunday—, while Peronism won 31.03%. If the result is confirmed in the November election, Juntos will become the main force in the Chamber of Deputies, albeit with a simple majority.
The Peronists, for their part, would maintain the simple majority in the Senate.
“The defeat is more for Fernández than for the Peronists. The wear is his, whose approval has been falling due to very particular mistakes, notably the administration of the pandemic and the economy,” says Mariel Fornoni, director of the Management & Fit research institute.
“There is also a disapproval involving something that falls solely on him: the guilt for having thrown a birthday party for the first lady during the pandemic, contrary to his own decree. The numbers show that the poor voting of the Peronist candidates accompanied the wear him as a leader.”
The event, held at the official residence of the Presidency, took place at a time of more severe restrictions on the movement of people in the country, to contain the spread of the virus. A leaked photo of what became known as the Olivos-gate led Fernández to first lie and then publicly apologize.
This Monday afternoon, at an event at Casa Rosada, the Argentine president assumed the poor result in the primaries. “We did something wrong and we need to understand what it was,” he said. “The course taken in 2019 [quando ele assumiu a Presidência] will not be changed. There are reasons why people didn’t follow us in this vote, and we’ll now listen to them better.”
The leftmost wing of the government coalition, led by Vice President Cristina Kirchner, has expressed dissatisfaction with the administration and is pressing for ministerial reform. “Fernández had his chance putting his pre-candidates in this electoral race, but they lost. Now, the wing linked to Cristina will certainly make itself heard, and it is possible that the president will have to get rid of ministers or change his policies,” says the political analyst Sergio Berenzstein.
One of the main points of attention in the dispute for the primaries was in the province of Buenos Aires —districts and municipalities around the country’s capital, which is an autonomous region—, where the largest electorate in Argentina is located.
There, the Peronist candidate Victoria Tolosa Paz got more votes than her rivals, with 33.64% of the total. It so happens that the other two candidates with the best votes, Diego Santilli (22.9%) and Facundo Manes (15%), belong to the same alliance, Together. Therefore, they will be on the same list in November, headed by Santilli. Adding their votes, Juntos would surpass Peronism in Argentina’s main electoral stronghold.
In the city of Buenos Aires, traditionally more anti-Peronist than the rest of the country, the opposition’s victory was more forceful. Former governor María Eugenia Vidal won 49.19% of the vote, against 24.66% for Peronist Leandro Santoro.
The novelty was the good performance of the ultra-rightists known as libertarians, led by economist Javier Milei. The Avanza Libertad coalition got its best vote in the country in the Argentine capital, with 13.66% of the vote — at the national level, it got 7.41%. If that vote is repeated in November, libertarians could win two to four seats in Congress.
For historian Pablo Stefanoni, Milei was successful in trying to repeat a formula used by former US president Donald Trump. “He went from being just an economist to entering politics by embracing the ‘alt-right’ ideological package [direita alternativa, em inglês]”, he says. “Before his speech was anti-collectivism, pro-market. In the campaign, he began to embrace anti-communism and the banners that have been mobilizing new right-wing movements around the world.”
Seen by many analysts as a phenomenon linked to the upper-middle class of Buenos Aires, Milei also obtained good votes in poor districts of the city, such as the neighborhoods of Villa 31 and Villa Soldati.
On the other end of the spectrum, the traditional left also ends legislative primaries with positive results. Despite having a traditionally small electorate, in a country where Peronism tends to stifle socialism, the Frente de Izquierda registered a slightly better national performance than the libertarians, with 7.58%. If the trend repeats in November, it should keep its small but persistent congressional caucus.
Economist Carlos Melconian believes that the Peronist defeat is more related to “the purse of the Argentines than to the clandestine parties of Fernández”. He advocates a reformulation of economic policy. “The government must fight inflation [que está na casa de 50% ao ano], instead of issuing money, and build an alternative to the crisis that already affects so many jobs and homes,” he says.
Markets gave positive signs on Monday, after confirmation of the results, with shares of Argentine companies up 17%. The parallel dollar, which has been devaluing in relation to the official exchange rate, also fell, closing at 182 pesos (the official one is at 103 pesos).
“The world expects a more organized Argentina, and markets react positively when populism loses. People have shown they are against economic mismanagement,” former President Mauricio Macri, leader of the Juntos alliance, told a local broadcaster.
By serving as a thermometer for Fernández’s administration, the legislative primaries also weigh on the race for the president’s succession, in 2023 — some pre-candidates are already starting to move. “A Juntos success in November could catapult the name of Horacio Rodríguez Larreta [hoje chefe de governo da cidade de Buenos Aires]”, says Berensztein, “not least because Peronism is divided over possible successors, and the president is out of breath to run for reelection.”
Participation in the primaries was relatively low by Argentine standards, where voting is mandatory and the population in general is highly politicized. The final turnout was 67% — Interior Minister Wado de Pedro had claimed the night before that it had passed 70%. Those who missed the primaries can vote in the November election.