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Presidential Debates: A New Part Of Argentine Electoral Culture?

By | [email protected] | November 5, 2015 3:56pm

charoskyPhoto via

What may seem like an inordinate amount of attention has been paid to details surrounding the upcoming presidential debate between Cambiemos’ Mauricio Macri and Victory Front’s (FpV) Daniel Scioli.

Yesterday afternoon, the NGO Argentina Debate, which will play host to the November 15 debate, released the order in which the candidates will appear in the event:

Later, photos of the moderators signing the style manual were uploaded with a link to the manual itself.

While we may attribute this level of scrutiny to the fact that it is a historic event — the first-ever runoff debate leading up to the first-ever runoff — something else seems to be at play.

The Bubble spoke with Hernán Charosky, the coordinator of Argentina Debate, to get a sense of debates’ significance within Argentine electoral culture and whether we can expect them to become a hallmark of the electoral process.

A Change In Electoral Culture

“[The debate is] the consolidation of a cultural change that started on October 4th, a process of establishing the debate as an interesting instance of the presidential campaign that Argentina had never had until now,” Charosky explained.

The October 4th presidential debate, which saw five of the six presidential candidates converge for an evening as the nation looked on, was a first for the country. For Charosky, it was beneficial to both citizens and political parties.

Five out of six presidential candidates attended the first debate. Source:

Five out of six presidential candidates attended the first debate. Source:

“The debate gave [citizens] the opportunity to see and listen to candidates that they did not know even existed,” he said. In a highly polarized election in which there were six candidates, the clashing policies and proposals could be somewhat dizzying and the debate was designed to make some sense of it all (especially for those who are not politically informed on a daily basis).

Charosky added that, “In a country that does not give full authority to its citizens, the debate was a chance for the political campaign to be centered around the electorate.” In other words, the debate handed power over to the electorate. Charosky illustrated this point by saying that when Victory Front (FpV) candidate Daniel Scioli refused to take part in the event, the other five candidates severely criticized the move for this reason: the people wanted a debate, so Scioli should have attended.

In terms of benefiting politicians, Charosky explained that the debate levels the playing field, making for the only instance in which politicians are “100 percent equal.”

“There is a lot of asymmetry in political campaigns due to the higher levels of exposure and better budgets of ruling parties. In the first round, there were candidates that did not govern in any jurisdiction, so the debate gave them a fairer chance,” he said.

Charosky added that one main consequence of the debate that affects both citizens and politicians is that it “adjusts the tone of political conversation,” in other words, it keeps the tone civil by focusing at least a part of the political campaign on policies and ideas in a neutral setting. One can only expect this to be a breath of fresh air after the constant slew of insults and accusations flying between Scioli’s and Macri’s camps over the course of the past week. For Charosky, the upcoming debate could help calm the waters a little by returning the focus to ideas and proposals.

We could use some of that adjusting for our collective headache.

What To Expect

Charosky made it clear that the runoff debate is set to be different from the first. To start, while Scioli refused to go to the first debate, he actually proposed it this time. Not only does this mean that the FpV will be present in the debate, but it is also an indicator of the first debate’s success, according to Charosky.

“Scioli has simply decided to attend this time around because he saw that the debate was a respectful and neutral space for ideas,” he said.

When asked whether Scioli’s presence would fundamentally change the dynamic of the debate, he considered that the change from six debating candidates to two would have a bigger effect. Charosky told The Bubble to expect a different dynamic between the candidates due to this: whereas the first debate was focused more on presenting ideas and policies, this time there is expected to be more interaction between the candidates. Let’s just hope they stick to the realm of politics and not try to unleash more of the “fear campaign” on each other.

The candidates in full flow. Source:

The candidates in full flow. Source:

Various television channels, websites, radios and social media platforms will be transmitting the second debate (including a special program on CNN and a live channel on YouTube). Charosky considers that this is due more to the ballotage debate being part of the political “grand finale” that’s being played out, but we think he’s being modest: the first debate’s ratings on television outranked a major football game, which in Argentina is a very big deal.

One part of the debate that will not change is the content: the subjects up for debate will be the same as in the first debate and are the following:

  1. Economic and human development
  2. Education and early childhood
  3. Security and human rights
  4. Democratic strengthening

Charosky did mention, however, that candidates will try to include foreign policy proposals when talking about these national issues.

Argentina Debate will be hosting the November 15 debate in collaboration with the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), along with the presidential candidates, media outlets, civil society organizations and universities (public and private). The debate will be held at the Universidad de Buenos Aires’ (UBA) School of Law at 9:00 PM.