Image Source: El País
Despite being a federalist country, Buenos Aires’ prevalence against the rest of the country’s provinces has been tangible, and its political realm is no exception. Since the return of democracy in 1983, at least one member in each winning presidential ticket has been from Buenos Aires. What’s more, according to polls for the 2023 election, the presidential candidates that performed best were all from Buenos Aires. While most people are currently focused on the presidential race that has once again become a competition between inhabitants of the city and province of Buenos Aires, in recent weeks, the region has witnessed and staged events that will significantly impact the upcoming general elections. The unfortunate electoral performances of Javier Milei-aligned candidates in several provinces, the disappearance of Cecilia Strzyzowski in Chaco, and the recent social uprising in Jujuy all suggest a necessity to pay greater attention to local political scenarios.
Javier Milei’s Strikes of Defeat
Javier Milei, a far-right candidate, has transformed Argentina’s political landscape in recent years. Back in 2021, Milei became the third largest force in the city of Buenos Aires elections upon attaining an impressive 17 percent of votes during his first run for office in the Chamber of Deputies. Since then, the Milei phenomenon only continued to grow. More recently, several polls have shown that Milei has transformed the Argentine political landscape from bipartisanship to an “elección de tercios” (election of thirds, i.e., three parties with similar figures of voting intention) between the governing coalition Frente de Todos (now Union por la Patria), the opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio, and La Libertad Avanza. This new scenario has created expectations for Milei’s possible high electoral performance in the upcoming presidential elections.
However, Milei has yet to be able to replicate his success in the provincial elections. The candidates from his political party have all shown poor electoral results, and in some elections, Milei’s party did not have any candidates running at all. This series of disappointing outcomes in the provinces have already started to sow doubts regarding the feasibility of Milei’s presidency. These defeats showcased the failure of Milei’s party to establish itself beyond Buenos Aires and its absence of a strong national strategy. Moreover, these results demonstrated that the party is struggling to find alternative figures to Milei that can track votes.
The stark contrast between Milei’s great numbers in the electoral polls and the provincial results puts into question the feasibility of the far-right candidate’s presidential aspirations. In a scenario where Milei wins the elections, these local outcomes question the governability during his hypothetical presidency. Governors, deputies, and senators are veto actors that may be insurmountable obstacles to the enactment of the president’s government program. How would Milei govern without majorities in the Legislative chambers, nor any provincial governors from his party?
Chaco: The Case of Cecilia Strzyzowski
Days before the primary elections in June, members of the Sena family—César Sena, Emerenciano Sena, and Marcela Acuña—were arrested for the disappearance of 28-year-old Cecilia Strzyzowski. National outlets quickly picked up the event as the Sena’s enjoy great influence in the province of Chaco’s political scene, and deep connections with current Governor Capitanich. In addition, both Emerenciano and Marcela are precandidates in the Frente Chaqueño, the governor’s party. Thousands took to the streets of Resistencia (Chaco’s capital) to protest, while the opposition criticized the government’s silence. Eventually, Governor Capitanich expressed his support for the victim’s family and distanced himself from the Sena’s.
The involvement of the Sena family in Cecilia’s disappearance created an enormous dilemma for the national governing party. On the one hand, Capitanich’s relationship with Kirchnerism is very strategic given the political capital and influence that the governor enjoys in the province. Notedly, Capitanich’s win in the upcoming September elections is the only hope that the government has of maintaining control over Chaco. Additionally, Governor Capitanich has been a historic ally of Kirchnerism, and one of the strongest voices of support within Peronism for Cristina Kirchner’s presidential candidacy. On the other hand, some media outlets increasingly suggest that Capitanich gave millions in public funds to the Sena’s foundation up until their arrests, and that the family even communicated with the governor after the crime. Despite Capitanich’s public denials of these allegations, the profound controversy surrounding the case makes it nearly impossible for the governing party to maintain public ties with him.
Apart from the support of the outgoing President Fernández –whose positive image has fallen to historic lows and has been isolated within his coalition–, no significant Kirchnerist figure has expressed any comment regarding the case, which seems as though the government’s strategy has been to remain silent. However, this may change in the upcoming party congress in Chaco as the main Peronist presidential candidate Sergio Massa will be present alongside Governor Capitanich. Lingering questions therefore remain surrounding the party’s future. For instance, how long can the silence last without hurting the strategic relationship with Capitanich? Will the government abandon one of its key political figures and risk losing any chance of governing Chaco for the next four years? Or will the party support him and risk negatively affecting its performance in the upcoming national elections?
Jujuy: Constitutional Reform and Social Uprising
On May 22, 2023, a popularly-elected Constitutional Convention began working to reform the provincial constitution, with some aspects causing great controversy. Amongst some of the proposals, the reforms would eliminate mid-term elections and establish that the winning party would obtain half plus one of the legislators in the provincial Chamber of Deputies. The proposal also includes the prohibition of any disturbance to the right to free circulation and the modification of the right to private property, which could potentially hurt the indigenous people’s rights as the majority of the population lack property titles over their lands. However, this measure would be of great interest to the government of Jujuy since some indigenous territories sit next to salt flats, which have great potential for lithium extraction.
The Constitutional Convention quickly approved the constitutional reform on June 15, which erupted massive protests throughout the province and beyond, becoming a matter of national scope. Responding police repression has since left 170 injured and 68 detained and has been criticized by several human rights organizations.
The conflict became a dispute between Argentina’s main political parties. Governor Morales quickly took to Twitter to accuse President Fernández, Vice President Cristina Kirchner, Kirchnerism, and “the left” of instigating violence in his province. Moreover, the main figures of Juntos por el Cambio gathered to publicly support Morales and assign the responsibility for the situation to the national government, showing a unified front after weeks of explosive fights within the coalition. Peronism also closed ranks in the face of the situation. President Fernández and Cristina Kirchner took to Twitter to condemn the ongoing situation in Jujuy and to criticize Governor Morales. Several Peronist figures joined the condemnation, calming down the existing tensions within the movement.
The ongoing situation in Jujuy is another example of a provincial stage impacting the national reality and the upcoming elections. Both the governing and opposition coalitions have been immersed in increasing public confrontations that have threatened the unity of the coalitions. However, the situation in Jujuy gave them an occasion to reach a consensus and show the electorate a strong position of unity that had been absent for some time. Moreover, the events gave Gerardo Morales massive support across the spectrum of his coalition. This will increase Morales’ public acknowledgment within the electorate and potentially strengthen his presidential formula alongside Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.
The Importance of Looking at Provincial Stages
The developing events in the provinces demonstrate the importance of looking at local scenarios to analyze Argentina’s national politics. Javier Milei’s presidential aspirations are being questioned after his poor electoral results in several provinces. In Chaco, Kirchnerism is at risk of losing one of its strongest and long-lasting political allies, in addition to control over the region. In Jujuy, Governor Morales has gained enormous public notoriety and strong support from his coalition, and both the government and the opposition have shown previously unimaginable images of unity. It is still impossible to assess the true impact of these provincial situations. Still, it calls for reconsidering how we approach analyzing upcoming elections in Argentina and national politics. The political analysis ought to understand that only focusing on the presidential race in Buenos Aires means losing a fundamental unit of scrutiny: the provincial stages.
Salvador Lescano is a former intern of Global Americans and holds a bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a minor in Government from Universidad Torcuato Di Tella. He currently works as an Assistant to the General Project Coordination in Consultancy for biomass projects at LIGNIS.