With national legislative elections coming up on October 27, Argentina is abuzz with political activity. In addition to the high economic stakes—the country suffers from increasing inflation and faces the threat of a deep recession—many view this year’s elections as a harbinger of who will become Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s successor two years from now. The results of the August 11 primary races suggest a challenge to her influence, though perhaps not to Argentina’s political system.
Kirchner is serving her second and final term in office (though some debate whether she will attempt to run for a currently unconstitutional third term). The Peronist party, Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), has made several legal adjustments to the country’s electoral and judicial systems that could serve to boost its popularity. They have lowered the voting age to 16 in hopes of support from young voters, created bureaucratic obstacles that political parties must overcome to compete in elections, and reformed the Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación (Supreme National Court of Justice) so that two-thirds of its judicial magistrates must affiliate with a political party and run for election.
However, signs of popular dissent have hinted that a new leader might rise to power and bring ten years of Kirchnerismo to a close. First, the opposition has staged several massive protests, including those held in November of last year and this past April, each with larger turnouts than any popular protest since the 2001 economic crisis. Second, the primary elections held three weeks ago suggest that the president’s grip on power may be slipping. To the FPV’s surprise, the Frente Renovador (Renewing Front) candidate, Sergio Massa—the mayor of Tigre (a populous suburb just north of Buenos Aires) and a onetime-Peronist party member who has now distanced himself from the FPV—defeated Fernández de Kirchner’s pick, Martín Insaurralde, for representative of the province of Buenos Aires, a vital district for the president and a traditional Peronist stronghold.
Yet Fernández de Kirchner maintains a confident outlook on the October elections, and her supporters, organized into neighborhood groups, pledge their loyalty as strongly as ever. Yet Massa’s victory in the province of Buenos Aires and non-FPV victories in the provinces of Jujuy, San Juan, Chubut, and La Rioja—normally strong Peronist areas—indicate that many voters are ready for a change.
Though Massa has yet to secure a victory as representative of Buenos Aires province in October and the presidential elections remain two years away, it appears that he is gaining momentum on a potential run for the presidency. While some doubt he has the personal charisma to become a national Peronist leader, others—Peronists and anti-Peronists alike—are drawn to Massa. In recent interviews I conducted in Buenos Aires, a range of voters said that Massa focuses on “real issues” that affect Argentines and that he seems removed from the claims of corruption they perceive in the Fernández de Kirchner administration. His victory in the upcoming midterm elections would present a threat to the Fernádez de Kirchner legacy.
Ultimately, however, Massa may represent more continuity than change. In addition to cutting his teeth as a Peronist mayor, well versed in its politics, his intensely personalistic campaign does not diverge greatly from that of Peronist “super-presidents”—from Juan Domingo Perón himself to Carlos Menem and Fernández de Kirchner. Massa may stress “policy over politics,” but he also abruptly announced his candidacy less than two months before the primaries and relied largely on his own attractive image to garner support. His campaign posters, hung throughout Tigre and Buenos Aires province, display only a clever spelling of his name, “+a,” in bold letters, along with that of his newly formed political party, Frente Renovador (Renewing Front), against a black background.
The current political climate suggests that Fernández de Kirchner will likely be forced to step down in 2015, bringing the reign of Kirchnerismo to an end. However, it is not clear whether an opposition candidate would take the country in a new direction, despite some Argentines’ disillusionment with the politics of the Fernández de Kirchner administration. The leading possible contender has, at least as far as his campaign is concerned, continued the personalistic style of his predecessors.