The political situation in Argentina has been turbulent in the last year. In the legislative elections of June 2009, the opposition won majority in the House of Representatives and has over the last year been characterized by president Cristina Kirchner’s attempt to remain in power. When visiting Sweden in March, Carolina Poli Palazzo, Advisor to an Argentinian local politician described an Argentina which has been subject to political misgovernment but which is finally on its way back – if the opposition manages to build a stable coalition.
The presidential form of government in Argentina not only results in a different role and impact of the legislative branch but also in few coalitions formed between parties compared to the Swedish form of government. As legislative elections are mid term elections, when majorities are changed in both chambers it doesn’t change the government whatsoever.
The two-party structure that has been predominant in the last sixty years came to an end in the 2001 political and economic crisis. Today, the system is largely based on four main parties (which have subdivisions and, in some cases, fragile alliances). This system has a direct impact on the National Congress and is likely to have an impact on the 2011 presidential elections.
Legislative elections in June 2009 resulted in an opposition majority, comprised of four opposition parties (Coalicion Civica, Union – Pro, Peronismo Federal and Union Civica Radical) that tend to host internal separations. The government party lost in the biggest provinces that represent 80% of the total votes and the opposition as a whole holds the committees’ presidencies in both chambers. This means that the opposition has the ability to bring up new topics. Voters have manifested mainly against the government but haven’t chosen one opposition alternative; they have dispersed their votes among the main opposition parties. This leads to a fragmented opposition in the National Congress.
In the second half of 2009, the government (Frente para la Victoria party) passed a number of structural laws in the National Congress in order to make use of their lasts months of “automatic” majority. Amongst these are a new law for media regulation, reforms on the electoral system and legislative delegations on the executive power (this means that the government is entitled to exercise functions of the legislative branch without previous consultation). The government has so far developed an “emergency model” that allows action without the Congress’ permission in some areas. This exceptional tool is used regularly and constitutes a major challenge for the opposition in the next two years. Discussions to reform some of these tools have already started and the opposition parties are trying to reach an agreement. One of the main challenges in the National Congress is to maintain a stable opposition while its four parties are voting differently on several topics and when the left sided parties, too, are dispersed on many topics. This gives the government party (Frente para la Victoria) the advantage of collecting votes on certain issues where the opposition cannot be united.
In addition, there are numerous representatives in the National Congress who managed to surpass the threshold of 3% and access the House of Representatives by making electoral alliances with other local parties or the national ones. These alliances often separate once elected which results in an scenario where the government party usually profits by collecting votes, thus forcing the four opposition parties to not only reach an agreement amongst themselves but also with the dispersed socialists.
It is the preference of the four opposition parties to change these laws one by one, depending on their ability to reach a general agreement. Meanwhile, the judicial power is emitting negative declarations on particular cases where these laws are being applied. Even though the opposition parties in the National Congress have difficulties in getting the quorum -as there is no stable alliance amongst them- the biggest hope of change comes with the initiatives of both the legislative and judicial powers.
Argentina’s political situation
Argentina faces structural challenges such as poverty and unemployment, which get worse as the inflation rates increase. As a result of this, social welfare is used by the government as a tool to get votes from the most exposed provinces.
National taxes are collected by the national government and distributed to the provinces. Therefore, the government relies on the size of the budget share to keep the local governments loyal. Budget management is therefore crucial. In a last attempt to increase the budget, the national aviation company -Aerolineas Argentinas- was expropriated in 2009, along with the private pension fund system.
Along with the need for budgetary distribution, a discussion with the agricultural sector started as the government tried to increase taxes on exports last year. The proposal was highly unpopular. Also, the aggression in presidential speeches was criticized. The proposal was rejected by the National Congress as a result of an agreement among the opposition parties and the vice-president’s negative vote was decisive (he is now accused of “conspiring” against the national government). This became a starting point of the government’s declining strength and decrease in popularity that resulted in an opposition majority vote in the mid term elections held in June 2009.
Different aims to collect more funds – such as expropriations and increased taxes on exports- have not been isolated proposals from the government. In January 2010, there was an attempt to use the Federal Reserve funds for paying off debts. This proposal was criticized by the National Congress (with the three opposition parties united) and finally suspended by the Judicial Power.
Syndicalism plays a major role in Argentina. Short term alliances between the government and the labor unions have become a challenge for the government itself. There are multiple groups demanding social welfare increases, thus contributing to the already existing need for budget increase to maintain governance.
In spite of the government assuring governance and a maintained employment, reality shows that the existing budget is not enough for the current year, not to mention additional problems such as unions’ demands and inflation rates. It is the opposition’s role to form a united position leading to the institutional changes needed to re-build what has been torn down in the last six years.
There are certain areas where a general agreement is difficult to reach due to ideological differences among the opposition parties. In other areas, change is already on the way.
The presidential election in 2011 is yet another challenge facing the fragile opposition alliances, in addition to internal problems concerning the already existing external pressure coming from the government in order to disperse the opposition. Opposition parties need to focus on forming agreements and realizing them in order to avoid fragmentation. Despite the challenges and the lack of organization, a process of change has already started.
Text based on a speech by Carolina Poli Palazzo