Argentineans give thumbs down to Fernández in legislative primaries

Sunday’s vote seen as a referendum on 10 years of “Kirchnerite” presidencies

Alejandro Rebossio
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner speaks to supporters late Sunday night after legislative primaries were held.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner speaks to supporters late Sunday night after legislative primaries were held.Victor R. Caivano (AP)

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s political faction suffered a devastating defeat in Sunday’s primaries, which were viewed as a national opinion poll on her leadership two years into her second term.

The “Kirchnerites” lost five important strongholds, which make up about two-thirds of the nation’s voters but, thanks to a split opposition, they came out overall as the best-supported political grouping in the primaries.

Fernández de Kirchner’s Victory Front bloc (FPV) placed second in Buenos Aires province behind the Renewal Front, whose leader Sergio Massa, the current mayor of Tigre, has positioned himself strongly in order to run for president in 2015.

Victory Front also came in second in Mendoza, and placed third in Fernández de Kirchner’s home stronghold Santa Fe province and in the capital, Buenos Aires.

The primaries were held to select candidates for October’s legislative elections, in which half of the Congress and one-third of the Senate will be up for renewal. But it also served as a “referendum” on Fernández de Kirchner’s government, which had already seen its approval ratings plummet in recent polls.

But at the national level, the FPV Kirchnerite Peronist faction obtained 29.2 percent of the vote with the Civic Union Radical Party (UCR) and its liberal coalition partners garnering 23.6 percent of the ballots cast. The dissident Peronists, who have been sharply divided, received 21.6 percent while the conservative Republican Proposal (PRO), led by Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, obtained just 7.8 percent.

In Buenos Aires province, the nation’s most populous area, the Renewal Front, which won with 33.4 percent of the vote, nominated a former Kirchnerite official who had jumped over to the opposition. The FPV garnered 27.7 percent of the vote.

The “Kirchnerites” lost strongholds, which make up about two-thirds of the nation’s voters

In Santa Fe province, where Fernández de Kirchner’s late husband, former President Néstor Kirchner, served as governor for many years, the FPV placed third with 21.2 percent. Socialist candidate for deputy, Hermes Binner, who ran against Fernández de Kirchner in 2011 and is allied with the UCR, took 41.3 percent of the vote in Sunday’s primaries while the conservative PRO bloc received 25.8 percent.

In Buenos Aires capital, the biggest surprise came with the victory of the candidate from the center-left Unen bloc, which groups the liberals, UCR, Civic Coalition and the leftist Proyecto Sur (South Project). Unen obtained 31.2 percent of the vote. This was a surprising defeat for Mayor Macri’s conservative PRO bloc, which obtained 30.8 percent of the vote while the Kirchnerite candidate garnered 20.6 percent.

What is clear is that President Fernández de Kirchner did not obtain a resounding nationwide victory – as she had predicted – for FPV candidates to obtain a majority in Congress and Senate, allowing her to ask for a change to the Constitution so that she could run for a hypothetical third consecutive term.

By the time her current mandate expires, the Kirchnerites will have been in power for 12 years, and it is difficult to believe that Argentineans will change their minds from Sunday when they go back to the polls in October. The primary results were a world apart from the 54 percent Fernández de Kirchner obtained in 2011, when the economy was stronger. But the president has been faced with more pressing issues during her second term, such as corruption allegations and a soaring crime rate, which many Argentinean voters took into consideration on Sunday.

On the other hand, it was unlikely that the FPV was going to obtain a similar number of votes in a legislative primary as it would in a presidential election. Néstor Kirchner was elected in 2003 with 22 percent of the national vote. Two years later in mid-term elections, Argentineans gave the Kirchnerites 39 percent of the vote in the legislative races.

In 2007, Fernández de Kirchner won the presidency with 45 percent of the vote, but two years later the Kirchners lost their first race in 10 years to a loose alliance between the UCR, CC and liberal groups.

The FPV faces an uphill battle to win a parliamentary majority in Congress and the Senate. One possible scenario, many analysts predict, could be a deadlocked legislature for the rest of Fernández’s term, making it difficult for the president to drive through new policies.

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