October 23rd 2017 marked a decisive turn in the political history of Argentina. Legislative elections were held throughout the country for the renovation of a third of the Senate, and half of the deputies. Argentina has been under the leadership of Mauricio Macri since 2015, when the former president of Buenos Aires made his way to the presidency. At the time, Mr Macri was considered the underdog; he had control over a slight minority in the Parliament, and the months immediately following his election were marked by political ups and downs, which suggested the situation was going to remain unchanged.
Following his successful presidential bid, Mr Macri’s liberal approach to the economy was blamed by many for the 2016 economic crisis, which still, to some extent, casts its shadow over Argentina. The country will conclude the year 2017 in recession, and with one of the highest inflation rates in the world. A few days before the election, the corpse of Argentine indigenous activist, Santiago Maldonado, who had disappeared during a demonstration in Patagonia, was recovered. The case had aroused great criticism against the central government, accused of producing a modern ‘desaparecido’, a name given to those who were secretly murdered by the dictatorial government of the 1970s and 80s. Nonetheless, this did not block Mr Macri’s path to power. Contrary to all predictions, the outcome of the election was clear: the candidates of Cambiemos (Let’s Change), Mr Macri’s political coalition, obtained overwhelming victories in the majority of the regions.
More muscle for macrismo
‘Macrismo’, the name given to Mr Macri’s free market politics, prevailed in 14 electoral districts, of which five (Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Santa Fe, Mendoza and the capital Buenos Aires) are main provinces. Strikingly, in the province of Buenos Aires, Mr Macri’s candidate, Esteban Bullrich, defeated former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner by 4 points. Mr Bullrich’s victory against Ms Fernández denotes more than a political victory. This win simultaneously boosts Mr Macri’s possibilities of being re-elected in 2019, and crumbles Ms Fernández’s hopes to get back to the foreground of Argentine politics.
In fact, this loss could set forth the downfall of Ms Fernández’s political career, and the end of over a decade of political influence over Argentina. She made her way to power in 2007, after succeeding her husband, Nestor Kirchner, and won two national elections, thanks to a political agenda marked by nationalist appeals and a typically Peronist approach.
Peronism, which has remained the main political doctrine in Argentina since the 1940s, is a sort of third position ideology in between communism and capitalism, with an extensive focus on workers’ rights. Ms Fernández made it the cornerstone of her political campaign, with a focus on populism and a rigid, protectionist, approach to the economy.
Its long lasting life and far-reaching influence have made Peronism seem impossible to dismantle, but, as of 2017, Mr Macri’s victory could change this. During his speech, in the aftermath of the electoral results, the president stressed the importance of changing the obsolete political spectrum of Argentina, so as to radically transform the country and ‘raise the Argentine people from poverty’. The party started from the first moment of the recount in the ‘macrista’ bunker, in Buenos Aires, with dancing, balloons and chants of ‘they won’t return’, in reference to the Ms Fernández and her supporters, while among Peronists in Conurbano, silence fell while waiting for a last-minute turn in the count, which never arrived.
Despite being defeated, Ms Fernández spoke positively of the electoral results, emphasizing that ‘Nothing ends here. Everything begins today’.Thanks to the Argentine electoral list system, she obtained a seat in the Senate. She has declared this will allow her, along with the rest of the coalition party ‘Unidad Ciudadana’ (The Citizen’s Unity), to constitute a decisive opposition line to Mr Macri’s proposals.
All change on the political stage?
It is hard to predict whether this strategy will prove successful, as Ms Fernández’s current relationship with the Argentine justice system is complicated to say the least. The former president was charged in the past with corruption and money laundering charges, and, just 4 days after her defeat in the legislative elections, she was added to a list of 14 suspects for the ‘cover up’ of the 1994 AMIA terrorist attack, which killed 85 people. Ms Fernández’s seat in the Senate may shield her from going to prison, but it is hard to state with certainty at this stage.
The 2017 elections may have completely revolutionised the political landscape of Argentina, dominated over the last 70 years by Peronism, which is now much weaker. Though, when it comes to Argentine politics, nothing is certain, everything suggests that Mr Macri will consolidate himself as a leader for the years to come. After him, there are already strong contenders for a successor, such as the governor of Buenos Aires, María Eugenia Vidal, one of the big winners of the night, or Marcos Peña, Mr Macri’s Chief of Cabinet of Ministers, who, once again, led the team to victory. Though the “macrismo” began as a small group of local powers, it is now consolidated into the centre stage of Argentine politics.