Panqueque: flip-flopping in Argentine politics.
To say Argentine politics are “complex” is already an understatement. But the one thing that has been making Argentina’s political landscape even more difficult to understand is the disappearance of political parties in the conventional sense, which we’ll define as forces with some kind of institutional structure, history, internal mechanism to elect authorities and most importantly, some idea of continuity.
For several decades, two dominant parties — the Peronistas and the Radicales — formed a sort of bipartisanship in Argentina, much in the way of Republicans and Democrats in the US, Labour and Tories in the UK and the PP and PSOE in Spain. That is until the Alianza entered the political arena.
The Alianza was a coalition created in 1997 with the specific goal of defeating Peronism. In order to unite anti-Peronist voters, the Radicales joined forces with the FREPASO — a new, small center-left party founded by left-leaning Peronists who had left the movement in protest of President Carlos Menem’s neoliberal twist.
One year after winning the 1999 election, the new Alianza government’s vice president and FREPASO head, Carlos Chacho Álvarez, resigned, citing differences with President Fernando De la Rúa’s leadership. In 2001, this administration collapsed, leaving the country in shambles.
(This is the so-called “Alianza stigma” that is talked about now regarding the possibility of a broad anti-K coalition: parties can unite and have the numbers to reach power, but the coalition can’t last because of different factions’ disagreements.)
Most pundits agree that 2001 was a turning point for the old, traditional political parties: from that moment on, numerous parties were created, sometimes for the length of a single campaign and single election to support a single candidate, resulting in even more flip-flopping, betrayal, back and forths and contradictions among politicians forming and destroying alliances in their search for power.
Here’s a recap of the last decade:
- Eduardo Duhalde and Néstor Kirchner
After 2001, former Buenos Aires Province Governor Eduardo Duhalde was appointed “caretaker president” and called for an early election in 2003. Instead of running, he endorsed the governor of Santa Cruz Province: Néstor Kirchner, then unknown to most Argentines, who couldn’t even pronounce his name correctly.
Kirchner ran against former President Menem. Both identified as Peronists but didn’t compete in a primary: they simply created new parties and ran in the general election. Néstor’s Front for Victory (FPV) won because Menem dropped out of the running and has been in power ever since.
Duhalde celebrated his dauphin’s triumph and the two enjoyed a brief honeymoon, until Néstor sought independence from his former mentor in 2005 and had his wife, Cristina, run against Duhalde’s wife, Chiche, for a senate seat in BA Province, the country’s most populous district. The First Lady won, and ever since then, the Duhaldes and Kirchners have been sworn enemies.
- Sergio Massa
The leader of the Renewal Front — whose campaign ads imitating provincial accents went viral this year — was a young Peronist star on the rise, appointed head of the ANSES Social Security by Néstor. His high-profile tenure allowed him to run as mayor of Tigre, but Cristina summoned him to be cabinet chief in 2008, resulting in his being mocked on prime-time TV by Marcelo Tinelli for being a K yes-man. This week, he confirmed his presidential bid as an opposition candidate following rumors about his quitting. It was only two years ago he won the midterms and claimed he’d prevented Cristina from changing the Constitution. Many believed back then he could be the next Presidente.
- Elisa Carrió
One of the leading anti-K voices in the country, Elisa Carrió has been criticized for her tendency to destroy the alliances she helped build. Originally a member of the Radicales, she quit to form the movement Argentines for an Egalitarian Republic (ARI) and later the Civic Coalition party. Over the years, she forged alliances with the Socialists, Radicales, former Vice President Julio Cobos and people now aligned with Massa, among others.
The past two years have been hectic for Elisa. In 2013, she joined forces with Fernando “Pino” Solanas, a left-leaning filmmaker with a Peronist background, for BA City congressional seats, but in 2014, she literally walked out on him on live TV because he said there was no place in their coalition for the “contemporary right” (as you can see in the clip above)… while she was sidling up to BA City Mayor Mauricio Macri, a representative of said right, according to Solanas. As of June 2015, Carrió is allied with Macri (in spite of celebrating his defeat in the 2003 mayoral elections because he’d “stole[n] the country”) and fiercely opposed to Solanas. And vice versa.
- Francisco De Narvaéz
El Colorado, as he is known, is an anti-K, conservative Peronist who’s made security a main component of his platform. He often criticizes Kirchnerites for what he believes is their soft approach to crime. He’s also known for having a scorpion tattoo on his neck.
In 2009, he formed an alliance with Macri and was able to defeat Néstor in the BA Province congressional midterm elections (by a narrow margin). Emboldened by a boost in popularity, he began toying with the idea of running for president rather than BA governor… which also happened to be Macri’s plan. And thus, they parted ways.
Two years later, he shacked up with Ricardo Alfonsín of the Radicales, who needed a strong BA province candidate to support his presidential bid, in what is now considered one of the most shocking alliances ever made in Argentina. Their spot walking together in a garden like a teen couple was a blatant display of phony opportunism.
And in 2013, he campaigned against the sensational Massa, claiming that, “Massismo is more of the same, Massismo is more Kirchnerism.” Fast forward to 2015, though, and he’s sealed an alliance with Massa to be his BA Province gubernatorial candidate. And wait! There’s more: he ultimately dropped his bid to facilitate a Massa-Macri accord, which never even materialized.
- Julio Cobos
The case of Julio Cobos is emblematic of these extreme back and forths. By 2007, he was the most visible representative of the so-called K-radicales, members of the Radical Civic Union (UCR) party who vocally supported Néstor despite his being a Peronist. Cobos was chosen as Cristina’s running mate in the elections she won that year, resulting in his expulsion from the Radical party. For life. Or so they said.
But in July 2008, amid the campo conflict — which saw farmers revolt against a tax hike during a four-month standoff — Cobos cast a tie-breaking Senate vote in opposition to the tax… against Kirchnerite wishes.
Overnight, he became an anti-K hero and launched a campaign in the 2009 midterms with the short-lived Federal Consensus (ConFe) party — his own creation, of course. And he campaigned against the K administration while being a part of it, because unlike Chacho Álvarez, he didn’t resign. He happened to do so well in the polls that the Radicales lifted their “lifelong” ban and welcomed him back. However, his popularity didn’t even make it to the 2011 presidential elections and he dropped out of that race (and this year’s as well).
This coalition — which united presidential hopefuls Solanas of Proyecto Sur, Hermes Binner (the second most-voted candidate in the 2011 elections, but almost 40 points behind CFK) of the Socialist Party, Cobos and Ernesto Sanz of the Radicales and Carrió of the Civic Coalition — looked to give non-K left-of-center voters an alternative.
Infighting broke out over the possibility of including Macri’s Republican Proposal (PRO) party — a move supported by Carrió and Sanz but rejected by Binner, Cobos and Solanas who wanted to preserve the coalition’s progressive identity. After Carrió walked out on Solanas to side with Macri, Sanz, along with the whole UCR, followed suit. Less than a year later, FAUNEN had self-imploded. The remaining members are rallying behind lawmaker Margarita Stolbizer under a new name: Progresistas. Did we mention they launched the coalition on April 22, 2014? That’s right. It all happened in less than a year.
- Mauricio Macri
BA City Mayor Macri insists his party, PRO, represents “new politics” and always advocates giving political newcomers a chance. That’s why he rejected an alliance with Massa’s Renewal Front. However, he just made a pact with the Radical Civic Union (UCR), a party more than 100 years old that has held some sort of power since 1983. And in 2013, he gave Massa a big hand by dropping all of his candidates in Buenos Aires Province. Not to mention the fact that this year, PRO and the Renewal Front formed coalitions at the provincial level.
And we haven’t even discussed the inumerable politicians once allied with Cristina who have now defected to the opposition (looking at you, Martín Lousteau, Graciela Ocaña, Felipe Solá, etc.) or the ones who returned to Kirchnerism after defecting to the opposition (like the bunch of bonaerense mayors who were in Massa’s camp until two minutes ago).
Come back to this article in a year, and I’m sure you will find more flip-flopping after a new president is in office.