File photo of Daniel Zovatto, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) in La Romana, Dominican Republic, March 29, 2022. EFE/ Orlando Barría

Daniel Zovatto: The temptation in Argentina’s elections is to jump into a void

Manuel Fuentes

Buenos Aires, Oct 21 (EFE).- Argentines go to the polls on Sunday to elect the next president of the republic amid a dramatic economic and social backdrop characterized by highly emotional political behavior, which electoral expert Daniel Zovatto metaphorically defines as “standing on the edge of the abyss, jumping into the void and seeing what happens.”

“Argentine society is going into this election with a highly charged emotional situation, very desperate, very frustrated, with a lot of fear and anxiety,” warns Zovatto (Santa Fe, Argentina, 1957), Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Ph.D. in International Law from the Complutense University of Madrid, and one of the most perceptive analysts of Latin American actuality.

“The word that defines this process is uncertainty, but there is an additional element: the extremely emotional and not very rational character of this election, which introduces a component of unpredictability in the results”, added in an interview with EFE the analyst, who is in Buenos Aires to closely follow Sunday’s electoral process.

The most important election in forty years

According to Zovatto, “this is the most complicated, but also the most important election since Argentina’s return to democracy” in 1983.

“The country’s situation is dramatic: last year, Argentina’s GDP per capita was similar to that of 1974. The nation has been at a standstill for fifty years, from 1950 to 2016 there have been nine defaults and fourteen economic recessions, and poverty has skyrocketed.”

“It is obscene that a country like Argentina – one of the largest economies in Latin America, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of about $610,000 billion, according to the World Bank – has more than forty percent poverty,” he says. “The society is very exhausted, frustrated and desperate because of the lack of results.”

“We are going into an election in which 72% of citizens say they are not satisfied with the way democracy is working, and in which there are 50% who would not mind having a non-democratic government as long as it solves their problems,” comments Zovatto, alluding to a recent survey conducted by the Austral University of Buenos Aires, the Poliarquía polling company, and the Buenos Aires City Bar Association.

“We have a terrible economic situation, a brutal social deficit,” says Zovatto. For this reason, “half of the Argentines are looking for someone to come and solve their problems. If he’s a democrat, that’s great, and if he’s not, that’s great, too,” he adds.

The end of the Kirchnerism-Macarist duality

Between 1983 and 2000, Argentine society relied on the binary logic of two major political forces, Peronism and Radicalism, “but that exploded with the 2001 crisis, with the ‘Let them all go,'” recalls Zovatto, who notes that “out of those ashes emerged Kirchnerism and Macrism,” referring to former presidents Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), his wife Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) and Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), “which lasted another twenty years.”

“With the collapse of the traditional political party system, the door is opened for anti-caste and populist candidates like Javier Milei. He is the consequence of failure,” the analyst declares, referring to the ultra-right and libertarian presidential candidate who is the favorite in the polls.

Milei won the PASO (Open, Simultaneous and Compulsory Primary Elections, held on Aug. 13) and is very strong in the polls.

According to the analyst, it is “highly unlikely” that the most radical sectors of Kirchnerism will take to the streets to overthrow the government if Milei wins, “unless the results of the elections are challenged.”

“Until now, Argentina has had a very important characteristic that distinguishes it from other countries in the Americas, and that is that the political power has never interfered with the electoral authority; there has always been a relationship of respect and acceptance,” he stresses.

But Zovatto is convinced that the next president of Argentina will face a “brutal challenge of governability”. EFE