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Setback for Kirchner

Marc Koch / jbOctober 28, 2013

The party of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has suffered a bitter defeat in mid-term congressional elections. The country now faces some fundamental change.

EPA/Enrique García Medina
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

There is a saying, “After the election is before the election,” which clearly applies to the two main winners of the Argentine mid-term elections. The main opposition candidate, Sergio Massa (pictured above,) from the conservative Renewal Front (Frente Renovador) party, scored a convincing victory on Sunday in Argentina's most populous province, Buenos Aires.

And PRO (Republican Proposal,) the party of the capital's conservative mayor Mauricio Macri, secured the majority in Buenos Aires proper, placing senators in the upper house for the first time. Not surprisingly, Macri announced his intention on election night to campaign for president in the 2015 elections.

In the tradition of Peron

Although rival Massa has yet to announce his candidacy, his victory speech was peppered with hints that he, too, will throw his hat into the ring in two years' time.

Kirchner views herself and her political work in the tradition of the government of Juan Perón. This influential politician made his mark in Argentina as the leader of a grass-roots movement in the 1940s, subsequently pursuing a political course that came to be known as "Peronism," which supported social justice and policies "for the little guy."

EPA/Maximiliano Luna
The PRO party of Mauricio Macri is sending senators to officeImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The result continues a negative trend for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Her left-wing party Front for Victory (Frente para la Victoria - FPV) suffered a huge loss in the August primaries, though it was still able to maintain a narrow majority in both chambers.

Significant losses

This control was enough for the government to interpret the vote as a victory. In the FPV campaign headquarters, Vice President Amado Boudou announced euphorically: "We note with pleasure that we remain the nation's primary political force after these elections. Although there have been some important developments at the local level, the FPV will regain traction there.”

This was a mild understatement, given that his party had lost in Argentina's five major territories: the capital, Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires province, and the northern provinces of Córdoba, Mendoza and Santa Fe.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Copyright: DW/Marc Koch
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is forced to the sidelinesImage: DW/M. Koch

It is now clear that there will be no third term for President Cristina Kirchner. The FPV lacks the necessary majority to push through a constitutional amendment to extend her term. Kirchner's top candidate, Martín Insaurralde, has not achieved the set target.

The President herself is sidelined: She requires absolute peace and quiet after undergoing a brain operation. She was unable to fly to Rio Gallegos in Patagonia to vote there. Because of Argentina's compulsory voting rule, she even had to secure her doctor's permission to stay at home.

Kirchner's poor health

Observers are already talking about the end of the Kirchner era because of her poor health. The President and her late husband have ruled the country for 10 years. Their "model" has been a mix of central state control and brusque closure to the outside, which has lost its appeal. A new, non- Peronist middle-class is looking for alternatives.

The election winners Macri and Massa aim to deliver them. Massa, who is 41, struck a chord in the divided country with a statesmanlike speech. "Because future is more important than the past, I call on all political forces to focus on national policy,” he said. “We need to overcome the discord and the narrow-mindedness and turn to specific projects that are beyond party politics."

A supporter prays (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Many are praying for President Kirchner's recoveryImage: picture alliance / AP Photo

To what extent the two are willing to work together remains to be seen. Macri seized the opportunity to make a little dig at the potential opponents in a post-election comment: "I would like to announce today that in 2015 no one will campaign for the PRO who has at some point been in the national government,” he said. “We are not interested in making minor changes to the status quo. We want a real change." Macri was alluding to the fact that Sergio Massa was once the head of Kirchner's cabinet.