Argentina: Elections signal shift in political wind

Supporters of the Left and Workers Front, which won 1.15 million votes in national elections on October 27.

Recent mid-term elections in Argentina revealed three key tendencies: a continued decline in support for President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her Peronist-allied Front for Victory (FPV), the reemergence of new forces to its right, and what many have dubbed a “historic” vote for the Trotskyist left.

At stake in the October 27 national elections were half of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and one third of the Senate, along with several elections for state parliaments and local councils.

The elections were also viewed as a crucial springboard for potential candidates looking to compete in the 2015 presidential election. Kirchner will be unable to contest it due to constitutional limits on consecutive terms.

The FPV demonstrated once again it is the single largest political force, winning 32% of the vote. This was enough to ensure its continued, albeit reduced, control over both houses of federal parliament.

However, it suffered an important defeat in the critical state of Buenos Aires, which represents about 37% of the electorate. A list backed by right-wing Peronist dissident Sergio Massa won 43% of the vote in the state (12% more than the FPV candidate).

Moreover, the FPV’s overall result reflects a downward trend in support. It won almost 12 million votes (54%) in the 2011 national elections, but only 7.5 million votes this time.

It may be too early to claim the result signifies the end of Kirchnerism, there are obvious signs of a shift in the political mood.

This fall in support is occurring within a context where Argentina’s resource export boom has slowed down, the government’s ability to maintain concessions and subsidies is dwindling, and big business is pushing for greater austerity from a government they never truly felt to be their own.

On top of this is the continued disillusionment bred by decisions such as handing over new oil concessions to Chevron, all in the guise of defending national sovereignty. The government also launches attacks on the International Monetary Fund and financial markets while simultaneously seeking their help.

For many workers, there is little to celebrate about the FPV redistribution push. After 10 years, the top 10% of paid workers received more that 30% of total wages while the bottom 10% receiving only 1.4%.

At the same time, the government has chosen to attack workers and their unions for successive rail disasters, ignoring the way privatisation has driven the railways into the ground.

Disturbingly, the biggest beneficiary of the decline in the FPV vote were candidates aligned to Massa, Kirchner’s former chief of cabinet and mayor of Tigre, one of the largest councils within Buenos Aires.

Massa’s candidates, who ran under the list name Renewal Front, had the support of several important mayors in Buenos Aires, as well as the former Argentine Industrial Union president Jose Ignacio de Mendiguren.

Massa represents a rightist current that, while having broken with Kirchnerism, remains within the broad Argentine church that is Peronism. He is more pro-business and is supported by bosses in industries, banks, and rural producers that still believe Peronism represents the best option for defending their privileges.

Other right and centre-right figures polled well. The millionaire head of government for the City of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, and his far right PRO party increased its support in the capital. Candidates aligned with the centre-right Socialist Party also polled well in certain regions.

On the other side of the political spectrum, leftist candidates won 1.4 million votes across the country.

The key beneficiary of this surge of support was the Left and Workers Front (FIT). FIT is an alliance of Trotskyist parties mainly including the Workers Party (PO), the Socialist Workers Party (PTS) and the Socialist Left (IS). The candidate lists for the FIT also included an important number of non-aligned union militants and community activists.

The FIT won 1.15 million votes, or about 6% of the national vote, although it registered much higher percentages in working class areas, for example the oil region of Santa Cruz where it won 15%. This was more than double the number of votes they received in 2011, and was enough to secure the election of at least three national parliamentarians and eight state parliamentarians.

Due to the undemocratic electoral system, the FIT failed to get MPs elected in several states where they polled very well, such as Cordoba (7.5%, where its is alleged fraud robbed them of an MP), as well as Neuquen (9.6%), Jujuy (7.7%) and Santa Cruz (11.1%).

A number of leftist regional lists also did well, such as in the southern-most state of Tierra del Fuego, where the state secretary of the Metal Workers Union (UOM) was elected national deputy with 21% of the vote.

However, the left only succeeded in electing one local representative in what has historically been its strongest area of support, the City of Buenos Aires district. This was largely due to a divided left vote.

Together, the votes of the four left lists would have been enough to elect two federal MPs and at least three local parliamentarians.

Taken as a whole, such a result for the far left, and in particular the Trotskyist left, is unparalleled in Argentine history: never before have they received such a high vote nor had as many candidates elected.

It also represents the first tentative steps towards taking up the challenge being posed by the bosses' drive for greater austerity, with many sensing the need to prepare a fightback to expected attacks in the near future.

The vote comes hand-in-hand with other developments outside of the electoral sphere.

Over recent years, rising discontent with the traditional political system has been reflected in the fall in support for traditional parties, the growing numbers of industrial battles, many far left victories in student elections, and now, in the emergence of an embryonic, but growing, left political force.

As has traditionally been the case, the rise of the left has occurred alongside a decline in support for Peronism, with more progressive sectors disillusioned with the FPV’s move to the right choosing to vote for the FIT.

The rightward drift by previously centre-left forces, such as the Socialist Party, has also helped open up political space on the left for the FIT.

Importantly, many saw in the FIT a solid bid at left unity behind pro-worker and socialist policies.

The FIT’s election campaign was characterised by the way it presented concrete proposals to tackle the pressing needs of the people.

These included wage rises to address the rising cost of living, no further tax rises on workers, and a pension rate of 82% of workers’ average wages.

The FIT also campaigned for the nationalisation of oil and gas, starting with the revocation of the deal with Chevron. The demand for nationalisation was extended to cover the railways and underground metro system, together with their placement under worker and commuter control as the only way to salvage the railway system and put an end to the string of recent train disasters.

FIT candidates also promised that if elected they would place themselves at the service of workers and communities in struggle, with the aim of building a political alternative of workers and the left capable of fighting for a peoples’ and workers’ government.

In line with this, FIT parliamentarians will receive only an average workers wage. The rest of their salaries will be used to help fund different struggles.

Elected candidates will also only hold their seat for one year before rotating it with the other candidates that ran on the same list. This ensures the experience is shared around and privileges are not accrued.

An important challenge will be the FIT’s ability to link up with other left forces that did well in these elections, both to actively work together in supporting struggles but also with an eye to the 2015 presidential elections.

What will happen next is unclear, but in any case a new experience has been born in Argentina, a work in progress that many will be following closely with a sense of hope.