Kirchner party trounced in mid-term elections

Reversal for Argentina’s ruling party reflects dissatisfaction over economy, rising crime and corruption

Sergio Massa, mayor of Buenos Aires’s Tigre, with his wife Malena and children  Milagros and Tomas,  after the resuts  in the Argentinian midterm election. Photograph: Enrique Marcarian/Reuters

Sergio Massa, mayor of Buenos Aires’s Tigre, with his wife Malena and children Milagros and Tomas, after the resuts in the Argentinian midterm election. Photograph: Enrique Marcarian/Reuters

 


Cristina Fernández de Kirchner suffered the worst electoral defeat of her presidency of Argentina yesterday when her ruling faction of the populist Peronist movement was trounced in midterm congressional elections.

Candidates supported by Ms Kirchner won just 28 per cent of the vote to elect half of the lower house of congress and a third of the senate, losing out to rival Peronists as well as to opposition parties from the right and left.

In the country’s most populous electoral districts, the ruling group was comfortably beaten, ending up in third place in the capital Buenos Aires and the provinces of Córdoba and Santa Fe.

The reversal reflects growing national dissatisfaction at economic mismanagement, rising crime and mounting evidence of rampant corruption among the country’s ruling circle.

Ms Kirchner’s supporters are now further than ever from commanding the two-thirds majority in congress necessary to achieve their goal of lifting a constitutional ban on the president running for a third term in 2015. The result yesterday has instead officially started the race to succeed Ms Kirchner, who is halfway through her second term.

At a victory rally for his party in the capital Buenos Aires, the city’s right-wing mayor, Mauricio Macri, officially announced his candidacy for the presidency in 2015.

In the most closely watched contest, Ms Kirchner’s Victory Front faction within Peronism was beaten into second place in the strategic province of Buenos Aires by dissident Peronists led by Sergio Massa, her former cabinet secretary.

After a nasty campaign he won 44 per cent of the poll, beating his “Kirchnerista” rivals by 12 points. In a province that is home to 37 per cent of the electorate and where Peronist candidates won three in every four votes, Mr Massa has emerged as a viable contender within Peronism to succeed Ms Kirchner in 2015.

After his victory Mr Massa, who has sought to project a less-abrasive leadership style than the combative Mrs Kirchner, refused to be drawn on whether he was now a candidate for the presidency. His bid to be the movement’s standard-bearer in 2015 will face a stiff challenge from the popular Peronist governor of Buenos Aires province, Daniel Scioli.

Although yesterday’s results have intensified speculation about the looming end of the Kirchner family’s decade-long dominance of Argentinian politics, the president will remain the country’s most powerful figure. She is still the most popular politician nationwide, her positive image boosted following recent brain surgery.

Meanwhile, despite yesterday’s setback, her Victory Front retains its majority in the senate and commands a quorum in the lower house.

It will now need support from smaller parties to pass legislation but over the past decade, the Kirchner group has proved expert at using promises of funds and government jobs to draw opponents across the congressional aisle.

The president can also count on special economic powers that marginalise congress by giving her huge leeway over national budgets and economic policy. The outgoing congress voted to renew the powers originally passed at the height of the economic crisis that ended, in 2001, in the world’s largest debt default. The supposedly emergency laws have been renewed ever since.