Illustration Credit: Big Latino News
Amid record low voter turnout, President of Argentina Alberto Fernández and his ruling Frente de Todos coalition suffered an unexpected setback Sunday in the Primarias, Abiertas, Simultáneas y Obligatorias (PASO) primaries, losing ground to the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition nationwide. In preliminary elections widely viewed as a bellwether for national elections scheduled to be held on November 14, Frente pre-candidates received the highest number of ballots cast in only six of 24 provinces. Meanwhile, Juntos pre-candidates finished first in center-right strongholds while also gaining ground in historically left-leaning Peronist strongholds, such as Buenos Aires and Santa Cruz. Buenos Aires Jefe de Gobierno and potential 2023 presidential candidate Horacio Rodríguez Larreta was instrumental in the opposition’s strong showing in the vote-rich prize of greater Buenos Aires, home to nearly 40 percent of Argentina’s population, leading a slate of moderate pre-candidates that collectively earned 38 percent of the vote (compared to the Frente’s 33 percent).
Reactions to the electoral blow on the left-wing faction of the Frente coalition, led by former President and current Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, were swift, with several leading cabinet members—including Minister of the Interior Eduardo de Pedro, Minister of Justice Martín Soria, and pension agency head Fernanda Raverta—have officially presented their resignations to President Fernández (who has yet to accept them at time of writing). Infobae reports that, among others, Minister of Territorial Development and Habitat Jorge Ferraresi, Minister of Public Works Gabriel Katopodis, and Minister of Security Sabina Frederic have also informally expressed their preparedness to resign. The resignations highlight a growing rift between the brash left populism of the Frente coalition’s Kirchernist wing and the more moderate, center-left policies promoted by Fernández. In a leaked audio recording released Thursday, Fernanda Vallejos, a Buenos Aires deputy, gave voice to Kirchnerist frustrations, calling President Fernandez “illegitimate” after his apparent rejection at the polls.
The Frente coalition’s woes are due, in part, to Argentina’s beleaguered economy. Argentina has been in a recession since 2018, with inflation, unemployment, and poverty rates this year reaching 50 percent, 10 percent, and 42 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, ongoing attempts to renegotiate a debt repayment plan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—the result of a USD $56 billion deal, the largest loan in the Fund’s history, negotiated in 2018 under Juntos por el Cambio-aligned former President Mauricio Macri—have been similarly hindered by internal divisions within the Frente coalition. Minister of Economy Martín Guzman has for months expressed hopes of negotiating an extended fund facility agreement with the IMF, which would restructure Argentina’s remaining USD $45 billion dollar debt, allowing it to be repaid over a ten-year period. President Fernández’s proposed 2022 budget, presented to Argentina’s National Congress on Wednesday, assumes that the country will reach an agreement with the IMF, while somewhat optimistically predicting four percent GDP growth, a 33 percent inflation rate, and a spending deficit totaling 3.3 percent of GDP.
In an apparent bid to strengthen its electoral position come November, the Fernández government recently announced plans for an economic stimulus to be implemented prior to general elections. As Bloomberg reports, the increased welfare payments will target low-income and working-class households—the core of Peronism’s political base—by raising the minimum social security payments administered through Argentina’s Asignación Universal por Hijo (AUH) program (essentially, a child tax credit system). Explaining the logic behind the pre-election expenditures, Buenos Aires regional legislator Leandro Santoro said, “Argentina needs […] money in the streets, dollars in the Central Bank and conditions to reactivate spending.” Although Argentina’s quarterly economic contractions have decreased since President Fernández’s election in 2019—particularly after the easing of COVID-19 restrictions—several scandals and a slow vaccine rollout have damaged the government’s image. A mask-free July 2020 birthday party for First Lady Fabiola Yañez, in violation of the country’s lockdown and ban on social gatherings, recently led to widespread indignation and an embarrassing criminal proceeding. With 127 of 257 seats in the lower Chamber of Deputies, and 24 of 72 seats in the Senate, up for grabs in November, both Fernández and the opposition will seek to reinvigorate the disaffected Argentine public, whose participation rate in the PASO primaries reached its lowest point since the system’s institution in 2011.