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Argentine Political Outlook (Feb-01-21) PDF Imprimir E-Mail
Feb-01-21, by Rosendo Fraga

1. A presidential election has a clear interpretation in the outcome, an indisputable winner; but in a mid-term election, interpreting who won is more complex. The circumstances make the province of Buenos Aires play a central role. Back in time, the coup against Arturo Frondizi followed the political situation that created a Peronist victory in the province of Buenos Aires, although the UCRI - the ruling party - won in the national sum of votes. Closer in time, in 2005, the central electoral battle was staged, as is often the case, in the province of Buenos Aires. This district held an election for national senators in addition to that of the Lower House, and the former concentrated the political attention. The slate of the national ruling party presented Cristina Kirchner's candidacy for senator and the slate of dissident Peronism that of Hilda "Chiche" Duhalde. The former won with 45.7% of the votes compared to 20.4% of the latter. At the national level, the Kirchnerist victory was overwhelming. In the mid-term election of June 2009, Kirchnerism had advanced the election by 4 months, anticipating that this would favor it in economic terms, although that was not the case. At that time, in the province of Buenos Aires, the slate headed by Francisco de Narváez won, which was nurtured by dissident Peronists from Buenos Aires province and voters of Macri, who at that time governed the City of Buenos Aires. On this occasion, the former won with 34.6%, but the political effect was very strong, because the first candidate of the national ruling party -Frente para la Victoria- was former president Néstor Kirchner, who was defeated with the 32.18% of the votes. Although at the national level, Unión PRO obtained 19% of the votes against 29.5% of the Acuerdo Cívico y Social and 28.7% of the Frente para la Victoria -it came in third place- the political photo of that night that still lasts today depicts Francisco de Narváez defeating Néstor Kirchner in the province of Buenos Aires. 

2. The mid-term election that took place in October 2013 gave victory to the slate of dissident Peronism that ran with the Frente Renovador party, which at that time was led by Sergio Massa as mayor of Tigre. This one prevailed with 43.9% against the slate of Kirchnerism that presented Martín Insaurralde, mayor of Lomas de Zamora, who obtained 32.3% of the votes. In 2017, in the legislative election in the province of Buenos Aires, the voting for national senators was held again. Cambiemos won, led Esteban Bullrich as the first candidate for senator, against the slate of Frente para la Victoria, headed by then-former president Cristina Kirchner. The former prevailed with 41.3% of the votes compared to 37.3% for the latter. In addition to Unidad Ciudadana (the party defined by Kirchnerism for that election), Peronism had two more divisions in the Buenos Aires territory: the Coalición País headed by Sergio Massa and Margarita Stolbizer, and the Frente Justicialista Cumplir, of the former Minister of Transportation of Kirchnerism, Florencio Randazzo. So far, it is clear that the "winning effect" in a mid-term legislative election is determined by the Buenos Aires province election and not so much by the total sum of votes at the national level. It is also clear that in the province of Buenos Aires, the sum of Peronism united under the same slate ends up giving slightly more than half of the votes and even, at some point, more than two thirds. 

3. Argentina has always had a presidential system, according to which the electoral result is assessed in terms of political effects rather than the number of votes. The province of Buenos Aires has 70 of the 257 national congress members and renews half (35) every two years. If the first two parties obtained, for example, 15 seats each, the effect is not of a tie, but rather that the winner is the one who obtained one vote more than the other did. Against this backdrop, the Buenos Aires election of October 2021 will be decisive in terms of the political effect of the election. If a defeat of the national ruling party occurs in the province of Buenos Aires, although not in the national sum of votes, the winning effect would favor the opposition, despite this. The united Peronism in the province of Buenos Aires clearly gives the ruling party more chances of victory. In this context, the intention, in which the vice president and the president agree, that Máximo Kirchner, president of the Frente de Todos in the Lower House bloc, be president of the Buenos Aires Justicialist Party in March of this year, gains ground, precipitating a ‘headless' leadership of the current authorities, whose terms expire in December 2021. Paradoxically, the mayor of Esteban Echevarría district, Fernando Gray, president of Peronism until that date, is reluctant to resign early to make it possible. More than 40 days have passed since the announcement that Máximo will be his replacement and none of the nearly 1,000 congress members needed to facilitate it has yet resigned. The open primaries have not been suspended for now; on the contrary, the first actions to carry them out have already been taken. La Cámpora has played a decisive role in forcing the open, simultaneous and mandatory primaries that the governors and the Administration preferred to suspend due to the exceptional situation created by the pandemic. A divided opposition in the province of Buenos Aires - as seems to be the case today - increases the chances of the ruling party. 

4. For the ruling party, in addition to the winning political effect caused by a victory in the province of Buenos Aires, there is the opportunity to reach an absolute majority in the Lower House, for which it needs 10 more seats. Half of the Lower House members who are renewed in 2021 were elected in 2017, when Cambiemos won at the national level. Of its 119 members, the Frente de Todos renews 51, that is, less than half. That makes it easier for it to get seats. Juntos por el Cambio renews 60 of its 115 members. Even if it repeated the victory of 4 years ago, it would not win any bench. There are 17 members from two benches - the one that responds to Roberto Lavagna and the so-called Federalismo y Desarrollo, made up of dissident Peronists and legislators split from the PRO - with whom the ruling party has negotiated to reach the first minority. Of them, 11 are renewed, that is, more than half. It is another opportunity for the ruling party to add some more seats. In the Senate, where the majority of the Frente de Todos is broad (it has 41 senators out of 72), the ruling party has no risk and will retain it. To reach the majority, Juntos por el Cambio would need to add 12 more seats and that is impossible. On the other hand, to reach two-thirds -the qualified majority- the Frente de Todos would need to add 7: very difficult, but not impossible.


5. To conclude: 

a.  The province of Buenos Aires, which represents 38% of the national list of registered voters, defines the political effect of the election: whoever prevails in this district is perceived as the winner, even if it is not at national level. 

b.  But the degree of unity of peronism and the division of the opposition are two key matters that will influence the outcome. 

c.  Appointing Máximo Kirchner as president of Buenos Aires Peronism next March is the vice president's strategy to unite Peronism in the province behind her son. 

d.  But the ruling party also seeks to reach a majority in the Lower House, for which it has to add 10 seats to those it already has: today it seems difficult but not impossible.

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