Wednesday, January 26, 2022

OP-ED | 26-10-2019 13:16

Tomorrow is another day

Yet we should not limit our focus to the excitement of tomorrow’s voting – Monday could be just as important or even more decisive for Argentina’s future.

Tomorrow is another day – what lamer way could there be of presenting the electoral showdown now just around the corner? And yet amid all the apocalyptical overkill of campaign rhetoric and the market panics we should never lose sight of the fact that this is nothing more or less than a democratic election. Tomorrow is another day – last August’s PASO primary deciding everything and nothing could equally decide everything or nothing, depending on tomorrow’s vote. All up to the electorate.

Nothing more or less than a democratic election because such are the choices before us, despite all the efforts to present the country as at a crossroads between heaven or hell. Some of the more extreme opposition voices absurdly equate the Mauricio Macri administration with the 1976-1983 military dictatorship (or even worse, according to the lunatic fringe) while Buenos Aires Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal was overdramatising only slightly less when she said on Tuesday: “On Sunday we choose whether we are a full democracy or not.” Yet nobody can dispute the right of the six presidential candidates clearing the 1.5-percent PASO threshold to be competing tomorrow. On the far left Nicolás Del Caño subscribes to a revolutionary Trotskyist creed while on the extreme right Juan José Gómez Centurión was an Army mutineer threatening an elected government back in 1987, yet both have respected all the rules of the electoral process from the PASO primary through to now (including those of the debate not always deserving respect). Nobody has the right to question the democratic legitimacy of any candidate ahead of their performance in government.

Tomorrow is another day – that is true of today but it will equally be true on Sunday. But before advancing to the “day after,” let us look at tomorrow’s election. There is a widespread perception that the tail wagged the dog here in the form of a PASO primary wiping out any uncertainty – instead of being a prelude, the PASO became the main story, converting the real election tomorrow into a mere epilogue. This perception can be questioned. That was then and this is now – it is within the power of the electorate to produce an entirely new scenario tomorrow. The macropolitics (notably a reunified Peronism and a crisis-stricken economy) all points in one direction yet micro-politics has prevailed over macro-politics in surprisingly many elections around the world.

But assuming that perception to be correct, it would be another case of deciding everything and nothing. Even if we had absolute certainty as to who will be the next president, we would not be very much the wiser as to the next government. To take two extreme scenarios, Alberto Fernández could morph into another Carlos Menem (a hope entertained by not a few businessmen), the hirsute demagogue who became a beacon of ultra-liberal economics and structural reform with his privatisations and deregulation, while should President Mauricio Macri pull off a miraculous victory, he might attribute it to his fiscal irregularities in the wake of his PASO debacle and (looking nervously across the Andes at Chile’s turbulence) turn into one of Latin America’s most ardent populists. These scenarios are hardly even possibilities, never mind probabilities, but they might just happen. And even if there are no surprises, there are plenty of variables still up in the air – thus the margin of victory will not be a secondary detail in determining the balance of power within a potentially unstable pan-Peronist coalition and whether the tail will end up wagging the dog in the presidential ticket.

Yet we should not limit our focus to the excitement of tomorrow’s voting – Monday could be just as important or even more decisive for Argentina’s future. The transition period of over six weeks will be extremely tricky, especially if the lengthy handover includes a lame duck president and a continuing drain on reserves. It will indeed be impossible unless both sides can start behaving like adults as from Monday and avoid the petulant scenes of the last handover when outgoing president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner shunned Macri’s inauguration. These problems must be addressed the moment the vote-counting ends.

Only in one sense does “tomorrow is another day” not apply – all the rest of the time the ordinary citizen can feel helpless in a big, big world, but on just one day you, the voters, are king and queen with all the powers that be and pundits at your mercy. Why not make use of that power?

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