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OP-ED | 18-11-2023 06:08

A long road ends and a journey begins

Nothing ends irreversibly tomorrow – rather than any apocalypse now, it needs to be seen within the grander context of these four continuing decades of democracy.

Springtime in Argentina but that would not seem to be the mood in which most people are facing tomorrow’s run-off. Understandable enough under the circumstances but they are nevertheless wrong because there is something to celebrate – the conclusion of an electoral process beginning 41 weekends ago (with the La Pampa provincial primaries) will mark an unbroken streak of four decades of democratic voting in Argentina. Even those who would see today’s decision as little more than choosing their poison or those convinced that they must inhabit a nation of idiots if the field has been reduced to tomorrow’s alternatives must admit that no choice at all and the denial of free will (the human condition) would be worse. Nothing ends irreversibly tomorrow – rather than any apocalypse now, it needs to be seen within the grander context of these four continuing decades of democracy.

If this editorial might be almost alone among media spaces in seeing tomorrow as something to celebrate, it also does not have much company in refraining from telling voters whom to choose in the firm conviction that nobody owns anybody’s vote. The citizenry is composed of individuals, not masses, and what would be compelling reasons making one person’s vote totally logical might not exist for another – two entirely opposite votes can thus each be respectable as the other. If last weekend’s editorial could be summed up by its headline “It’s up to you” without any of the constraints of the veda electoral curfew in force since yesterday, how much more are we going to come to the same conclusion today (a principle which in no way means that we are indifferent to tomorrow’s outcome with zero preferences)?

If last weekend’s editorial abstained from telling anybody how to vote, it did end with the words “choose wisely” and perhaps all we can do here is to expand on that thought. Such is the systematic scepticism over politics which has arisen in Argentina that voters will not need to be told not to trust in campaign promises but perhaps they need a fuller picture of how to mistrust. Campaign promises are not just a credibility issue – quite apart from the sincerity behind them, they also depend on whether the candidate has the fiscal, parliamentary and institutional means and general authority to implement them. If those means are lacking, voters should give less credence to tempting promises but also less weight to dire announcements than other factors, concentrating on what is happening rather than what might or might not.

This perspective might seem to make bids to present this run-off as democracy against its enemies more relative but does not banish them altogether. If an authoritarian discourse without assurance of future authority is something akin to dollarisation without dollars, it can also be asked what that option is doing in a democratic election.

More central to this run-off is a craving for change which is in the air as much or more than spring, according to virtually every analyst. Change is such a diffuse notion covering so many needs that it is best left to the voter more than anything else. Just a couple of points here – change can be for the worse as well as for the better and it can also arise out of continuity with the means to implement it often more decisive than the policy or ideology behind it.

While conventional wisdom invariably urges voters to think in the long term, the short could be equally legitimate in this election – not only is there no long term without the short but there is no assurance against tomorrow’s run-off being a prelude to a transitional period rather than any watershed.

But more than enough advice already for voters who must make up their own minds. The time has come to look beyond tomorrow after these 41 weeks of campaigning to the tomorrow after that. Unless the election is too close to call even with almost all results in (far from impossible), the winner will have just 20 days of transition – too little time for comprehensive preparation and too much time for market mayhem to compound the already acute economic complexities. Tomorrow is D-day but there will be many other tomorrows.

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