Monday, June 24, 2024

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 13-05-2023 08:45

To vote or not to vote

However cavalier the strongmen of these two inland provinces have been with constitutional limits in seeking multiple consecutive terms, the last-minute timing of the Supreme Court’s interruption of the electoral process is extremely unfortunate, lending itself easily to government outrage.

The Supreme Court evidently took pity on this columnist, who at the start of this week faced the challenge of tackling no less than eight provincial elections (summarising the results from three last Sunday plus previewing five more voting tomorrow) in this limited space, reducing that total to half a dozen by suspending the gubernatorial voting in San Juan and Tucumán.

This column does not propose to explore last Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling at much length, partly because it is described in detail elsewhere in this newspaper and partly because our print schedule leads to these lines being written in midweek when there could be new twists (for now Tucumán’s provincial elections will be suspended while San Juan’s will be going ahead minus the gubernatorial tickets). However cavalier the strongmen of these two inland provinces have been with constitutional limits in seeking multiple consecutive terms, the last-minute timing of this interruption of the electoral process is extremely unfortunate, lending itself easily to government outrage.

Just two points here. Firstly, this ruling is far from unprecedented (the Supreme Court thus sees itself as being consistent rather than arbitrary) – in 2013 a decade ago the constitutionally dubious aspirations of current Santiago del Estero Governor Gerardo Zamora to a third term were cut short five days before the provincial election, just like now, while in 2019 the bid of former La Rioja governor Sergio Casas for a third consecutive appearance on a gubernatorial ticket and Río Negro Governor-elect Alberto Weretilneck’s quest for a third consecutive term similarly ran afoul of the Supreme Court, in the latter case the ruling coming just a fortnight before the voting and the objection being lodged by current Justice Minister Martín Soria who is now loudly deploring the interference in provincial electoral processes. Secondly, far from flouting federalism, the Supreme Court’s delayed response stemmed from respectfully awaiting the provincial instances – indeed there could be reasons for suspecting that the latter deliberately dragged their feet in order to trap the Supreme Court into this invidious last-minute suspension and even that they could have dragged their feet a while longer to avert this clash but the government preferred to provoke it.

No more on the ruling and hence no further mention of San Juan or Tucumán, with the previews of tomorrow’s voting limited to La Pampa, Salta and Tierra del Fuego. But first a retrospective look at last Sunday’s elections in Jujuy, La Rioja and Misiones.

No surprises there with Jujuy staying Radical, La Rioja Peronist and Misiones in the hands of its provincial ruling alliance with more than one label – the latter posted by far the largest majority but was also the only winner of the trio with a reduced margin (down from 72.4 percent in 2019 to 64.3 percent last Sunday). With the exception of Misiones whose Renewal of Concord (Frente Renovador de la Concordia, the ruling alliance’s latest designation) took almost two-thirds of the vote, the two main national coalitions remained dominant alongside the incumbent provincial governments with 80-82 percent of the vote in the other two provinces – the libertarian challenge in La Rioja and the leftist challenge in Jujuy were both left trailing in third place instead of becoming the main opposition, as forecast by some opinion polls. Turnout was down from 2019 but not dramatically except in Jujuy where it slumped more than 20 percent from the 84.7 percent of 2019 – a few percent lower in Misiones and 10 percent down in La Rioja with 70 percent or more of the electorate voting in both provinces.

Taking last Sunday’s elections one by one, Jujuy saw Gerardo Morales succeeded by his economy minister Carlos Sadir who almost claimed an absolute majority with 49.52 percent of the vote (as against the 43.7 percent re-electing Morales in 2019) – lithium and the nationwide swing against the central Frente de Todos government more than countered the new governor’s relative obscurity. The local machine managed to retain most of the Peronist vote for its party chairman Rubén Rivarola (22.3 percent) with the powerful support of both the Snopek dynasty giving Jujuy three governors and the Túpac Amaru indigenous social activist Milagro Sala failing to garner more than 6.6 percent for rival Peronist Juan Cardozo. Another disappointed man was Frente de Izquierda y de Trabajadores leftist deputy Alejandro Vilca, whose 12.8 percent was little more than half of his stunning 2021 midterm success of 23 percent plus. Libertarian Cecilia García Casasco and splinter Peronist Rodolfo Tecchi rounded out the voting with just over three percent each.

Unlike Sadir, re-elected La Rioja Peronist Governor Ricardo Quintela did clinch an absolute majority with 50.6 percent and a six-digit vote, an improvement on his 2019 vote of under 45 percent although the total Peronist vote is down from over 68 percent (since he was opposed in 2019 by two-term ex-governor Luis Beder Herrera). A provincial payroll of over 13 percent of the population gave Quintela a strong base but he was further helped by the opposition being divided between the mainstream opposition Juntos por el Cambio (32 percent for Felipe Alvarez, an improvement on 2019) and libertarian Martín Menem whose famous surname and ultra-fashionable ideology could not win him more than 15.6 percent of the vote – does this make Javier Milei a paper tiger or merely underline a huge difference between provincial and presidential voting? The three other gubernatorial candidates (a leftist, an independent and a more conservative libertarian) did not even reach one percent.

The massive vote returning 2015-2019 Misiones governor Hugo Passalacqua to his old job, perhaps boosted by provincial sentiment, disgust with national politicians and shopping tourism from neighbouring countries, has already been mentioned – how did the other third vote? Mostly for Radical deputy Martín Arjol (26.5 percent) with the Kirchnerite vote split between agrarian leader Isaac Lenguaza (4.7 percent) and deputy Julia Argentina Perié (1.8 percent), followed by Partido Obrero Trotskyist Virginia Villanueva (1.23 percent) and three other candidates (a libertarian, a conservative and a pro-life militant) with just over 3,000 votes each – new doubts about Milei because can anybody win a national election with only 3,318 votes in Misiones?

Before moving to tomorrow’s voting, let us briefly slip over the border from Misiones to Paraguay which voted a fortnight ago since the three main candidates there could be transposed here – if the victorious centre-right economist Santiago Peña, the centre-left’s Efraín Alegre and the irate Payo Cubas are the Paraguayan equivalents of Juntos por el Cambio, Frente de Todos and Milei respectively, could 42.7 percent, 27.5 percent and 22.9 percent be October’s respective results here? Not impossible.

Minimal space remains for the provinces of La Pampa, Salta and Tierra del Fuego voting tomorrow but they will dominate next Saturday’s column. All three governors – respectively Peronist Sergio Ziliotto, Gustavo Sáenz (Economy Minister Sergio Massa’s running-mate in 2015) and gay ex-priest Gustavo Melella – will be seeking re-election. La Pampa and Tierra del Fuego house the country’s two smallest electorates but Salta numbers its voters in seven digits (1,082,462, to be exact). In all three cases the main challenger is a Radical – PASO primary winner Martín Berhongaray in La Pampa, Miguel Nanni in Salta and Pablo Blanco in Tierra del Fuego – while the latter province is the only district of the three where PRO is running separately within Juntos por el Cambio under deputy Héctor Stefani and where there is a libertarian candidate, the evangelical preacher Andrea Almirón de Pauli. Since all three governors are more or less supportive of Frente de Todos, Kirchnerism is only putting up a candidate in Salta (Emilio Estrada). No space for the other nine rivals of Sáenz nor for any opinion polls, which we will skip to give the actual results in full next Saturday.

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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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