Argentine midterms could make president a ‘lame duck’

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Electoral observers representing the different political parties check that everything is correct at the voting station during legislative elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentines angry at high inflation and rising poverty could strip President Alberto Fernández’s coalition of its control of the Senate in mid-term elections Sunday that will impact his final two years in office.

The ruling Front for Everyone – made up of a collection of Peronist and leftist parties – currently controls the Senate and is a strong minority in the Chamber of Deputies, where it has relied on independents to pass laws.

If, as polls predict, the center-right opposition coalition Together for Change prevails in most districts, the ruling party will be forced to negotiate every initiative it sends to congress.

“Such a result would almost certainly relegate Alberto Fernández to ‘lame duck’ status for the rest of his term,” said Jimena Blanco, director of research and risk analysis for the Americas at the Verisk Maplecroft consultancy.

Roughly 34 million Argentines will select 127 national seats throughout the country, representing half the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 24 national senators in eight provinces, equivalent to a third of the Senate.

Most analysts are predicting a “punishment” vote against Fernández for a deepening economic crisis and spiraling inflation. Poverty affects more than 40% of Argentines and exceeds 50% among children. Unemployment is near 10% and the country’s inflation is second in the region, only lower than Venezuela’s.

The government has also been undermined by perceptions of rising insecurity and a series of scandals including violations by Fernández and those close to him of pandemic health restrictions. He has also had public disagreements with this vice president, former president Cristina Fernández.

“Security must be improved,” said 57-year-old saleswoman Elsa Veliz after voting. “They are stealing from everywhere, and it is something that effects everyone.”

After casting his ballot Sunday, Argentina’s president sought to put any possible losses in perspective.

“Tomorrow is Monday and Argentina continues, and we must continue working to build the country that we need to build,” Fernández said.

Speaking to journalists later, Fernández said Sunday’s vote will “simply determine how the Chamber of Deputies and Senate are made up” and that he does not plan to make any changes to his Cabinet no matter what the result.

In 2019, Cristina Fernández promoted the presidential candidacy of Fernández, who managed to unite the different currents within Peronism behind him. He defeated conservative then-president president Mauricio Macri.

But cracks have appeared in the ruling coalition related to difference between the Fernándezes, their economic policies and negotiations with the International Monetary fund over a roughly $45 billion loan granted Argentina in 2018.

The president, who is from the more moderate wing of Peronism, advocates not delaying an agreement with the IMF to calm financial markets. But such an agreement would be imply cuts in public spending that clash with his vice president’s more populist vision.

An election defeat Sunday is likely to further strain the bond between the two main partners in the Front for Everyone coalition, although most analysts do not see a definitive break.

“The government is going to have to rethink many things. Peronism never governed in a coalition before,” said Roberto Bacman, director of the Center for Public Opinion Studies. “Peronism has to find its own internal mechanism to define the course, the economic plan, how we end the issue of the Monetary Fund.”

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