Voters in Argentina’s October 27 midterm elections delivered a clear message to the country’s politicians on Sunday: they are ready for change. The incumbent, Peronist-affiliated Frente Para La Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), led by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, suffered key losses as the country voted on available seats in one-third of the Senate and half of the Chamber of Deputies.
The results may reflect voters’ concern with issues such as rising inflation, corruption, and crime, which have become increasingly severe in recent years under the Fernández de Kirchner government. They also suggest that the 2015 elections may feature a divided Peronist movement—as well as a plausible non-Peronist alternative for the first time in 12 years.
Though the FPV maintains a majority in both houses of Congress—40 of 72 seats in the Senate and 132 of 257 seats in the Chamber of Deputies—their losses in 12 of 24 districts in Sunday’s elections indicate that the party’s popularity is slipping. Perhaps the most important loss took place in the province of Buenos Aires, a traditionally Peronist region with over 11 million registered voters.
As predicted in the August primaries, Sergio Massa, an ex-FPV candidate and mayor of the populous city of Tigre, secured a seat in the Chamber of Deputies. His new Peronist-inspired party, Frente Renovador (Renewing Front), provides traditional Peronist voters with an alternative to the FPV. On Sunday, Massa soundly defeated his FPV competitor, Martín Insaurralde, who trailed by over twelve points. Whereas the FPV considers itself a leftist party, Massa’s Frente Renovador appears to represent more centrist, business-friendly interests.With the midterm elections over, Argentines have begun to speculate about who will compete in the upcoming October 2015 presidential elections. Massa, a clear contender, refuses to discuss his potential candidacy and insists that Argentines focus on the present. Even so, his followers chanted “Se siente, se siente, Sergio presidente” (“We can feel it, we can feel it, Sergio for president”) as he stepped onto the stage to make his victory speech on Sunday.
Massa’s followers are not the only citizens with their minds on the presidency. Mauricio Macri, the mayor of the federal capital of Buenos Aires, officially announced his candidacy on Sunday after his opposition party, Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal—PRO), enjoyed a solid victory in the capital. Macri declared that his campaign would not involve “any ex-member of the national government,” indicating that he does not intend to form a coalition with Massa or any FPV affiliates.
The conspicuous absence of Fernández de Kirchner—who suffered a subdural hematoma on October 7 and has since been recovering—has added to the FPV’s challenges. In addition to the party’s poor showing in the midterm elections, Fernández de Kirchner’s health concerns have all but extinguished hopes that she would run for a third presidential term.
Peronism is no stranger to political uncertainty. The party underwent a conservative, neoliberal transformation in the 1990s under former President Carlos Menem and has experienced a leftist transition over the past decade under the Kirchners. Today, the FPV’s electoral and political struggles, combined with Massa’s surge in popularity around the country, seem to suggest that Peronism is about to reinvent itself once more.
But as non-Peronist opposition leaders such as Macri make a bid for the presidency, the future of Peronism and Argentina’s political direction will be hotly contested in the lead-up to the 2015 presidential elections.