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Argentina: What’s at stake for the November 14 Midterm Elections?

On November 14, Argentinians will head to the ballot box in eight provinces to elect half of the Chamber of Deputies and one-third of the Senate. In a preview to these midterm elections, Argentina held Open, Simultaneous, and Mandatory Primaries (Primarias Abiertas Simultaneas y Obligatorias, PASO) elections on September 12, 2021, which resulted in an underwhelming electoral performance for the ruling Frente de Todos party against the opposition, Juntos por el Cambio. The midterm elections will shift the Argentine electorate, and with 24 Senators and 127 deputies impacted, time will tell if the ruling party solidifies their ground or if the PASO results will hold firm and result in the opposition's victory.

Frente de Todos comprises 57% of the Senate and 47% of the Chamber of Deputies, and with the seats up for election, they run the high risk of losing majority parliamentary representation in the Senate. Even though Frente de Todos is also the party with the majority representation in the Chamber of Deputies, it does not have the necessary votes to pass laws without political consensus.

With the PASO elections finally occurring September 12, after a delay due to the pandemic, and a voter turnout of 66.21%, the ruling party suffered defeats in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (CABA), Córdoba, and Mendoza, while losing in heartlands including the province of Buenos Aires and Santa Fe. More specifically, the opposition in the Chamber of Deputies obtained 40.5% of the votes compared to Frente de Todos 31.3%. In the Senate, the opposition received 44.4% of the votes compared to Frente de Todos’ 28.6%. To address the PASO results and citizens’ concerns that resulted in opposition victories, the ruling party first needs to consider the motivation for Argentine voters. 

The global COVID-19 pandemic hit Argentina aggressively, with the quarantine restrictions exacerbating economic contractions and increasing inflation rates of 51.4% in 2021, with the looming 45 billion IMF debt. These economic frustrations coupled with a varying COVID-19 response, which saw Argentines in lockdown multiple times and a vaccine rollout marred by scandal, resulted in an unsatisfied citizenry that leveraged the PASO as a means of having their plights heard.

The lack of confidence and unhappiness indicated in the PASO results brought the ruling party almost immediately into crisis. Internal fragmentation led by Vice President and former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, resignations of appointed officials, and six cabinet reshuffles were at the forefront of major news. 

With the opposition gaining coveted seats, especially in the province of Buenos Aires, the PASO results served as a warning sign to the ruling party. As such, the Government enacted measures to tackle key Argentine concerns to boost the economy and offset inflation ahead of the midterms. To win back Argentinians’ trust, the Government is considering economic relief measures, which include increasing the minimum wage, universal child allowance, and the Compre Argentino program, which would increase national production, have a positive impact on Argentine suppliers, and generate employment. These measures came just “in-time” post-PASO political crisis and the Budget Bill 2022, which aims to set economic growth of 4% and drop inflation to 33%.

Although these Government measures acknowledge failures and aim to gain the trust and support of voters, midterm election polls are proving that voters are still not convinced. A Ricardo Rouvier & Asociados October 2021 poll yielded that the PASO results would hold and the opposition would prove the victor, earning   42.1%, compared to 34.2% for the ruling party. Even though steps have been taken to appease voters, the question lingers, are these steps enough to convince the voters in two short months to keep the ruling party majority power in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies? Or will the PASO results be replicated, and polls projections validated in the midterm elections, causing a political frenzy, ultimately foreshadowing what's to come in the 2023 general elections for the ruling party?