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OP-ED | 11-09-2021 15:25

Prematurely Accelerating Serious Options

All too many politicians have been trying to bring the 2023 presidential elections ahead to tomorrow, seeking to stampede voters into a premature “the people or the republic” polarisation and to nationalise the voting.

A nation votes tomorrow although 20 years from now the event is unlikely to be recalled for its impact on world history with the same intensity as today’s 9/11 anniversary. On paper the PASO primaries (marking a decade of existence tomorrow) do nothing more than bar candidacy for hopefuls falling below a 1.5-percent threshold and rank the allies within coalitions, yet the previous chapter in 2019 proved to be a game-changer locally at least, if not on the same global scale as the Twin Towers – memories of the “game over” 15-point margin then accruing to Frente de Todos amid opinion poll forecasts of a dead heat both raise the expectations as to the importance of tomorrow’s outcome and make the results more unpredictable.

Both the ethos of independent journalism and the electoral curfew now in force (even if only strictly binding on tomorrow’s competitors), not to mention simple respect for the reader’s wisdom, prevent us from telling anybody how to vote – what we can do here is to issue a caveat against any rush to judgement. All too many politicians (and media) have been trying to bring the 2023 presidential elections ahead to tomorrow, seeking to stampede voters into a premature “the people or the republic” polarisation and to nationalise the voting when these PASO primaries are merely the prelude to the midterm election of half the deputies and a third of the senators within provincial boundaries.

Warning against this approach should not be confused with any “third way” recommendation to shun both the main coalitions, even if this is also entirely legitimate. Anybody convinced of the superiority of the ruling Frente de Todos or the opposition Juntos is fully entitled to cast their ballot in that direction but they should also be reminded that there is absolutely no need to do so tomorrow. These primaries serve a similar function to the first round in presidential elections when citizens are perfectly free to pick the candidate of their preference, no matter how much on the fringe, leaving the choice of the lesser evil to the run-off. These PASO are more open than most since the strenuous efforts of party headquarters to impose single lists did not always prevail (although often enough) – not only are there options within the traditional political class but also the emergence of outsiders like the Radical neurosurgeon Facundo Manes or the libertarian Javier Milei.

Nor should this voting be seen solely as a plebiscite on the presidency of Alberto Fernández. As it happens, Fernández himself would be the first to agree – since the coronavirus pandemic never allowed his presidential flight to take off, these elections should instead be a plebiscite on the “disastrous” administration of Mauricio Macri, he argues (“two models of a country”). Nice try but quite apart from neither Fernández nor Macri being a candidate tomorrow, the past is another country more than ever in a changed world which is not yet post-pandemic. Even if last year’s economic collapse was a point below the meltdown starting in the year of the Twin Towers (reaching a 10.9 percent contraction in 2002), the big difference then from now was that a rebound within a couple of years was generally expected (and duly arrived) whereas today all too many people have lost hope for the future. The crying need of this campaign is thus some road map for the future, not retreating into the past, whether five, 15 or 50 years ago. And yet any credible future vision has been perhaps the biggest of the many orphans of this mediocre campaign.

Last but not least, turnout. The vastly increased disenchantment since 2019 now makes the opinion poll forecasts even more vulnerable than then – even where the apathy is not total, there is no guarantee that voting preferences will be translated into actual votes nor that this factor will be constant across the political spectrum. Nobody wins from abstention or spoiled ballots – minor candidates risk falling short of the 1.5 percent threshold while major coalitions viewing these primaries as one gigantic nationwide opinion poll see their percentages drop. But perhaps the biggest loser is the citizen who abdicates on that rarest of days when they are king or queen. This newspaper cannot tell anybody how to vote, but it can tell everybody to vote.

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