Argentine Political Outlook (Sep-12-17)
Sep-12-17 - by Rosendo Fraga

1. It has been 42 days since the incident when Maldonado has allegedly disappeared and 41 days to go before the elections, he is still on the political spotlight. The electoral campaign, the good news about the economy and the corruption allegations are in the background, both in the political debate and in the media. The government's strategy has been changing. From supporting the Border Guard unrestrictedly, to accepting suspicions about 7 officers who were near the Chubut River, where Maldonado was seen for the last time. Human rights organizations, left-wing parties and Kirchnerism raise an ideological rather than a political conflict around the case. While the Judge of Esquel (Otranto) seems to be in coordination with the Executive branch, the prosecutor (Avila) considers the views of human rights organizations. According to the result of an expert report that will be known this week, the Judge will decide if he summons the officers who supposedly were in the Chubut River, like witnesses or accused parties. Left-leaning lawmakers have submitted a bill to ensure that those detained in social protests are immediately released while the case is substantiated and are already preparing a major demonstration by October 1, two months after Maldonado's alleged disappearance. 

2. The government seems to have adopted a strategy to reduce costs (the culprit being a border guard officers who took action against orders) and seeks to avoid an ideological discussion. The left and human rights organizations along with Kirchnerism in more recent years have managed to impose the policy that the Armed Forces cannot intervene in internal security. Now they go a step further, to prevent the Security Forces from facing protests and demonstrations. In particular, the Border Guard is the most effective force of the Argentine State to face these types of problems and its political use has been very limited after the Maldonado case. Meanwhile the protests on the streets will escalate. Already, on Tuesday 12, leftist parties, human rights organizations and Argentine-Palestinian associations will demonstrate against Netanyahu's visit to the Israeli Embassy. Collaterally, the indigenous claim for land – supported by the same sectors that claim for Maldonado and protest against the visit of the Israeli prime minister - that together call for 8 million hectares throughout the country is strengthened. The law that suspended the eviction actions against indigenous people occupying land without valid deed expires and the Senate must address the issue on September 27. An extension of this law would allow the government to avoid a major problem just days before the elections. For that day, indigenous organizations, with support from the left, human rights organizations and Kirchnerism will demonstrate at the gates of Congress. The government has won the open primaries, it can show good data on the economic course and the corruption cases continue to threaten Kirchnerism, but the ideological conflict and street control appear as its immediate challenge. In view of the imponderable events ahead, if Argentina does not qualify for the World Cup, the “social mood” could be negatively affected. 

3. But the political question is how much of this situation can affect the October 22 election result. It is clear that Maldonado is an imponderable case that alters a "status quo" that suited the government electorally. As Durán Barba himself has acknowledged, the case allows the government's opponents to do "political business". Specifically, it is a matter of to what extent Cristina Kirchner in the province of Buenos Aires will be able to polarize the progressive vote towards her candidacy. In the open primaries, 5% voted for left-wing candidates. For the government, that acts of violence that take place in the political and social demonstrations can favor it in view of the fears generated in independent sectors. But the central question is to what extent these sectors will be won by the ideological speech around Maldonado. That is to say, if the issue will remain central as it has been in the media until now, if the topic will keep on being expressed at football matches, if in the theater and music shows this claim continues and if public school classrooms continue debating about Maldonado. It must be noted that Kircherism won the elections in the national teachers union (CTERA) last week with 81% of votes, defeating the left. Today, there’s no clear answer beyond hypothesis and guesswork. 

4. Realistically, the President began to assume that negotiation will be the key to his success after the election. Not only the reforms, but also the budget will be dealt with only after December 10, when the new legislators are in office, with a significant advance of Cambiemos in the number of seats. Two ministers (Triaca and Cabrera) have said that there will be no labor reform and that only agreements reached by sector to improve productivity will be advanced. At the same time, the CGT decides to postpone the general strike for after the election. In view of the social movements, the decision has been to give way, to avoid protests in the streets that converge with those of an ideological type. The 22 governors - all except Buenos Aires and city of Buenos Aires, including those of Cambiemos - have agreed on a common position against Governor Vidal's proposal to increase Buenos Aires participation in co-participation, at the expense of the quota that the provinces currently have. They have already anticipated that they will not vote the budget, nor extend the economic emergency nor the tax on checks, if a satisfactory agreement on this conflict is not reached. The voting that three weeks ago Cambiemos lost by 39 to 9 in the half approval of the Science and Technology Law, was an anticipation of this position. Last week in the Senate, during the Chief of Staff’s briefing, Cristina's influence on the FPV bloc was confirmed: only 11 of 40 showed Maldonado’s picture. Despite the success of the open primaries, which could be repeated or expanded in October 22, the talks with Congress, governors, unions and social movements seem unavoidable: 

5. To conclude: 

 

  1. Some 41 days to go before the elections and 42 after Maldonado’s disappearance, the latter is at the top of the political agenda before the electoral campaign, the economy and the corruption scandals. 
  2. Now the government seems to admit that some officers could have beaten Maldonado, but human rights organizations, the left and Kirchnerism will not give in to the pressure of the case. 
  3. The electoral impact of the case is unclear: as a symbol, Maldonado might favor Cristina but the violence in protests and demonstrations may favor the government. 
  4. Governors, Congress, the CGT and social movements show limits that the government begins to accept and anticipate a post-election negotiation scenario.