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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 08-04-2023 06:02

April is the cruellest month

The results of the local elections so far are puzzling – incumbents winning in often heavy turnouts when opinion poll after opinion poll is telling us that there are masses of angry and alienated voters out there.

All the planets seem aligned for a new column series. The first two provinces (Neuquén and Río Negro down south) will be voting next weekend, leaving just enough time in this Easter weekend to introduce the new column before proceeding to the nuts and bolts.

But at a more personal level perhaps the main trigger was the return of the Buenos Aires Herald just over a fortnight ago on Memory Day (in digital form at least), thus effectively dooming the “And That Reminds Me …“ column which has been running for almost 30 months. Why? Because that column was based on relating current events to my newsroom experience in the Herald between 1983 and 2017 (when it really was a newspaper). Were I to continue nattering on about my Herald newsroom memories, readers might start wondering why I am not writing in that medium instead of in this newspaper – subliminal advertising for the competition. Whatever the value of that also self-indulgent column, it is thus no longer sustainable but finding a replacement is a no-brainer with next weekend’s Patagonian voting.

This series will run at least until the general elections on October 22 and stretching into November if there is a run-off. There will be a steady string of provincial elections through to then with plenty of campaign fireworks, analysis and anecdotes to fill the gap weekends. The slug “Campaign Comments” is drawn from the “Camp Comments” of farming columnist Clifford Potter in the last decades of the past century in the Herald (already mentioning it again after having consigned it to the past – this will be a difficult habit to kick). The slug “And That Reminds Me” came from the same source – a social column in the interwar period around a century ago.

Neuquén and Río Negro will be the subject of more detailed scrutiny on the eve of their provincial elections next Saturday. Suffice it to say for now that the electoral outlook of these two neighbouring provinces is of contrasting complexity. Vaca Muerta shale is showing every sign of ensuring a walkover for a Neuquén Popular Movement which has never lost an election since its foundation in 1961. By way of contrast neither the ruling Frente de Todos nor the opposition Juntos por el Cambio are presenting a united front in Río Negro with their factions and coalition members backing different horses, thus making for a more uncertain outcome. But a fuller explanation of this disarray plus details on the main candidates and the final opinion polls will await next weekend.

With almost all the year’s voting still lying ahead, the remaining space will centre on the handful of elections held so far. One of these was actually in Río Negro. On March 12, General Roca Peronist Mayor María Emilia Soria (the sister of Justice Minister Martín Soria) was re-elected with almost 35,000 votes or nearly 60 percent of a surprisingly strong turnout for these politically disenchanted times of almost 70 percent – none of her nine rivals reached a double-digit percentage. A hitherto unsuspected landslide swing to Peronism? Or a backlash against the Juntos Somos Río Negro party ruling the province (not to be confused with Juntos por el Cambio)? Or even a sympathy vote for a woman whose mother killed her father at the New Year Party greeting the start of the year 2012 – Carlos Soria had been Río Negro governor for just three weeks after the Peronists had had to wait 28 years to win this province.

Yet switching to the local elections in Córdoba (in La Falda and Hernando in the following two weekends) the only common denominator is an incumbent triumph because both contests were won by Radicals. Turnout and margin of victory were in inverse proportion in the two contests. While the La Falda mayor was re-elected by a resounding 71 percent against a single Peronist rival in a 51 percent turnout, the Radicals won Hernando with 51 percent of the vote in a 71 percent turnout – perhaps a new name in the latter town accounted for the smaller margin.

The early voting is rounded out with the La Pampa PASO primaries on February 12 when Radical deputy Martín Berhongaray won the gubernatorial nomination from PRO deputy Martín Maquieyra, with four out of every seven votes cast by opposition voters, while incumbent Peronist Governor Sergio Ziliotto was unopposed. La Pampa will be holding its provincial elections on May 14.

One swallow does not make a summer nor even two or three but the local elections so far are puzzling – incumbents winning in often heavy turnouts when opinion poll after opinion poll is telling us that there are masses of angry and alienated voters out there. Everything points to the contrary but these small town elections could just be the shape of things to come – the familiar voting patterns persisting because the angry people are too disillusioned to vote. 

Local elections are a very different proposition to national or even provincial elections, of course, but this could also work against protest candidates because it is one thing to send them to Congress and another to have them running the country. It can work both ways with the maverick politician Elisa Carrió a case in point – runner-up with 23 percent of the presidential vote in 2007 and last with less than two percent in 2011. So the other end of the year could see Javier Milei president and Fernando Burlando Buenos Aires Province governor – or not.

Anyway, 27 more columns to go until then.

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Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys, who first entered the Buenos Aires Herald in 1983, held various editorial posts at the newspaper from 1990 and was the lead writer of the publication’s editorials from 1987 until 2017.

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