By an Argentinian student in London.
Certain elections command international attention as a result of the corresponding country’s preponderance in global affairs. Certain elections command a sporadic spotlight as a result of the corresponding country’s “news headline” status. Certain elections, however, happen in the dark, with the world hardly noticing outside the country’s own borders and neighbors. On October 25th of 2015, Argentina held its presidential elections, and for the first time in thirty-two years of a democratic regime, the elections should be more than just a side note on page 8 of global newspapers—the elections should command international attention.
The Argentinian electoral system, of proportional representation for the legislature, is a two-round system for the president. Being a presidential system with generous powers held by the presidential office, the elections for the president are seemingly all-important. For a candidate to win outright, they must hold 45% or more of the vote. Otherwise, if they more than 40% of the vote and a 10% difference with the runner-up in the election, they will win outright. If neither of these occurs, a ‘ballotage’, or second round, happens in which the first is pitted against the second placed candidate. The ‘ballotage’ has always been a distant possibility for the electorate—no election since the fall of the third and last military junta in 1983 has gone past the first round. October 25th marked an important date: for the first time, a ‘ballotage’ is imminent, and will be held on November 22nd.
For anyone familiar with Argentinian politics of the 21st century, the name Kirchner will only seem redundant—the story of a husband and wife that have held office ever since 2003, compounded with the tragic death of husband Nestor Kirchner in 2010. Cristina Kirchner, the current president, has already served her two four-year terms and is constitutionally barred from running again. Teenagers in Buenos Aires may only recall the name Kirchner as the country’s leader, and for the first time, a new name must appear. Kirchner’s successor and current vice-president and Buenos Aires Province Governor, Daniel Scioli, was favored to win the elections outright, with 65% of people of a survey believing he would be the next president. Election day came, and Scioli attained 36.86% of the votes, insufficient for a first-round victory. Runner-up Mauricio Macri, ex-Boca Juniors president and current Governor of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, collected a surprising 34.33% of the votes. Meanwhile, third-placed Sergio Massa picked up a substantial 21.34% of the votes, with the remaining votes held by Del Caño, Stolbizer, and Rodríguez Saá. On November 22nd, Macri will head into a ‘ballotage’ against Scioli.
Interestingly, 55% of people of a survey now believe that Macri will obtain office. Part of this belief is grounded on Macri’s party, Cambiemos, and its success in the Buenos Aires provincial elections, where for the first time since 1987 the Partido Justicialista, ie. that of the Kirchners and past political heavyweights such as Carlos Menem and most importantly, Juan Domingo Perón, has lost. Eugenia María Vidal won by 4%, and Scioli’s political footing has been at risk since then. The question really is, why does this matter, and why would anyone outside of the football, meat, and mate loving country care?
The answer lies in political change. Some may say that both Nestor and Cristina Kirchner were democratically elected in their offices, but some may argue that the simple reality of a country spending twelve years under the same family can be assimilated to a non-democratic system. Furthermore, some may say that the fact that only two presidencies since the introduction of democracy in 1983, the first under Raúl Alfonsín and the latter under Fernando de la Rúa that led to the default of the Argentinian economy in 2001, have been held by a party other than the Peronist Partido Justicialista means that a change in ruling party might mean much more than a simple exchange of power between Gordon Brown and David Cameron. As Macri’s party name suggests, “Cambiemos”, which literally translates to “let’s change”, political change could follow if Scioli were to lose the presidency. That is not to say that political change could not occur if Scioli were to become a president—it is just a more doubtfully skeptic claim, knowing his close ties to Kirchner and the Partido Justicialista.
And how does this matter to the outside world? Argentina is neither a member of BRICS nor the newly named MINT, yet a member of the G20. When its name appears on the news, chances are it is most likely related to Lionel Messi and football or potentially the Pumas and rugby. But we must remember two key events in the past year that did reach the page 1 headlines, namely the Argentinian economic technical default to US hedge funds stemming from the 2001 crisis bonds given out and the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman in the investigation of the more than controversial bombing of AMIA, one of Argentina’s largest Jewish institutions, in 1994 that could have effectively resulted in Kirchner’s impeachment. These two events led Kirchner’s popularity to decrease nationwide, but it also led people to question the government internationally. And yet, Scioli, her direct successor, was predicted to win the elections without any preoccupations about fellow candidates Macri and Massa. It seems that something important is happening in this Latin American nation, and it seems that the world should not just simply turn a blind eye. Latin America is more than an exotic land of historic empires and natural beauties; it poses great economic possibilities in every one of its corners. Dare we mention that Argentina is rich with natural resources and is also the second largest Latin American nation after Brazil?
The Argentinian economy is one that could bring great economic prosperity to global powers, and maybe American political scientists Acemoglu and Robinson’s famous denunciation that Argentina is not developed as a result of its exclusive political and economic institutions can be modified with political change. Political scientists love experiments, and maybe Argentina will take a central role in one. The degree of change is for the Argentinian people to decide on November 22nd—will it be a simply inevitable change of presidential last name from Kirchner to Scioli? Or will it be an eradication of the Peronist ideals that have grasped Argentinian politics since Perón’s accession to power in 1946 with Macri in the Casa Rosada? Whatever it is, change will come, and the world must watch.
Our message to the world: “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.”