“Something” happened in Argentina on Sunday, September 12. The result of the PASO (Primary, Open, Simultaneous and Mandatory) elections left many people speechless and was a general surprise, since the fact that the leftist government of Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Frente de Todos) lost in almost all the national territory meant a surprise that was definitely not in their plans.
The PASO are elections that, although they are not decisive, they are exclusive. On the one hand, they mark the course of the decisions that politicians will take in the next months in view of the general elections. On the other hand, those political parties that have not reached a “floor” (i.e., a minimum percentage established) will be excluded from the general elections to be held next November.
To simplify, we could say that they are a kind of big eliminatory poll where the 44 million Argentines give their opinion among the options they have, while the politicians who manage to overcome the minimum to continue in the race measure themselves, plan and ultimately determine whether or not to change course and which names will finally go on the ballot of each party.
These elections, roughly speaking, are a way for Argentines to say to their rulers: You are doing things wrong, if you do not change your policies, your decisions, your ideas, your way of doing things, I will not vote for you in the next ones.
Those next elections are the ones that do count for those who are still in the race, since they are the “general” ones, and from those results will come out the names of the next ones to occupy the legislative seats. That is to say, in November in Argentina the Legislative Power or, in other words, the Congress (deputies and senators) will be renewed.
Now, as we said at the beginning, in the PASO there was a tremendous surprise, not only because of the crushing defeat of Kirchnerism, but also because for the first time a liberal force led by the economist Javier Milei, with little to offer (but with a lot to offer), won among the main parties of all times such as “Juntos por el Cambio” or the “Frente de Todos”, just to name the most popular ones.
The data are devastating. The Kirchnerist Government lost in 17 of the 24 provinces of the country (actually 23 provinces and one federal district, which is the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires) and the ruling party (Kirchnerism) had no choice but to come out on Sunday, with a dog face, when the results were already imminent and irreversible, to accept its great electoral defeat, but not without losing its combative and cynical essence, like leftists, by saying that “we must have done something wrong“.
Yes, “something.” Something, according to the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) is a “pronoun”, it is “indefinite” and, to top it off, it is “neutral”. It designates an indeterminate reality whose identity is not known or is not specified. Well, now it is our turn to analyze this “something” and fill it with meaning.
Argentina’s economy has a large and long-standing deficit. It would be unfair to say that it is a problem of only a couple of years ago, or that it was a product of the pandemic. However, it would be even more unfair to say that Kirchnerism did not stoke the fire so that the purchasing power of Argentines would burn faster.
Double-digit inflation (almost 52%), in the best Venezuelan style, and the various dollar rates do not stop rising. In addition, President Alberto Fernández’s draconian measures to manage the pandemic were the death knell for more than thousands of SMEs. International companies could no longer stand the pressure and fiscal rules of the country and ended up leaving to places with greater freedoms, security and confidence. An example of this was the international Falabella, which as soon as it could, in the middle of last year, packed its bags and left.
Inflation, loss of purchasing power, fiscal pressure, distrust, high dollar. What else is missing? Ah, yes! Some tax burden that translates into more than 145 taxes. Some of them are: check tax (VAT), car tax, income tax, social security tax, wealth tax, among 140 others.
The horrified reader is probably wondering, “why so many taxes?” The answer is simple. To finance the 31 types of social assistance (only at the national level, since at the local level each province has its own assistance), the 19 social programs, the 5 non-contributory pensions and the 7 plans destined to “social security”. As a result, Argentina is one of the countries with the highest tax burden in the world.
And why does Argentina have such a tax burden? Two concomitant factors: work and poverty.
In the “country of cows” only 46.3% of the population is economically active (EAP), according to figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC). Meanwhile, poverty, according to the National Government, reached 42% of the population during the last part of the year. Although parallel estimates place this percentage at 49.6%, which means that about 22.7 million people are poor. Within this universe, we find that 63% of children in the country are below the poverty line, a percentage that would be equivalent to 7 million.
All these frightening and saddening numbers cannot be disguised and indicate that, once again, Argentina is in the top 10 in the Annual Index of global economic misery, occupying the seventh place. “Something” is “something.”
Some pandemic, freedom and society
If Argentines have not fared well in the economic sphere, they have fared even worse in terms of freedom under this last period of Kirchner’s government, added to the pandemic approach.
In March 2020 Alberto Fernández decreed a quarantine that lasted practically one year, “the eternal quarantine” or “the longest quarantine in the world”, as it was nicknamed in other parts of the world. In mid-March he locked up the Argentines and did not release them until the end of November.
The confinement affected traders, small and medium-sized companies and ordinary citizens who lived with their small businesses. The Fernandezes wiped out everyone. More than 20,000 SMEs went bankrupt and more than 100,000 jobs were lost. The Government classified certain labor activities as “essential” and those that were not included in this list had no choice but to put up with it.
In the midst of all this economic and labor catastrophe, there were members of the Kirchnerist cabinet who outdid themselves day by day with dangerous phrases that came out of their mouths. For example, the Minister of Security said that [the state] measured the “social mood” of people through cyber-patrolling in social networks, a measure that took away every constitutional right there was. While Argentines were melting down, the Government was spying on them to know what the reaction was.
Before the compulsory confinement began, the nation’s former Minister of Health said that the “coronavirus had no chance of reaching Argentina” because the virus was in Europe. And Europe is far away.
That is little compared to when in the middle of the quarantine they hired a professional clown to communicate the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 at a press conference of the Ministry of Health. Or when the Minister of Economy of the nation said that “selling dollars was a personal decision that one does not discuss in public”, when it was his own government that upon coming to power established a “cepo” (that is, a measure that prohibits the free purchase of more than 200 dollars per month within the system).
Let us not forget either when a deputy, also from the ruling party, in the middle of a virtual and televised session in the Chamber of Deputies, appeared sucking his girlfriend’s breast. Or when Diego Armando Maradona died, the government, which did not allow gatherings of more than 5 people in the same house, decided to hold a massive funeral at the Casa Rosada, attended by millions of people to say “goodbye” to the popular idol. It all ended in a mess that not even the president could stop.
One of the last drops that broke the patience of Argentines was a couple of weeks ago when it was known that, in the middle of the draconian quarantine in 2020 (in which no Argentine could leave unless it was “essentially” necessary), the President himself met secretly with several show-business personalities to listen to their “demands” and “problems” that his own government had caused.
The celebrities who paraded through the corridors of Olivos (the residence where the President lives) were ideologically related to the National Government, of course. As if that were not enough, almost simultaneously, the First Lady celebrated her birthday together with at least 12 people to blow out the candles with the nerve to portray the moment with videos and photographs that recently came to light. Although the list goes on, all these intertwined factors are the causes of the PASO results.
Faced with all this brazenness and abuse, evidently “something” had to be done. And the answer came in the PASO. A response from a people tired of hypocrisy, used to support the good life of the political caste and those who do not work, and finally morally and economically bankrupt.
The PASO are not definitive, and their results could vary a little, since there are about 10 percentage points in the air of the parties that did not manage to overcome the elections and that will be a big push for November.
The task of Argentines, once again, will be to safeguard their own interests and decide what kind of country they want to have. “Something” a little better, such as a country with a view to improvement and development, with work, without “pobrismo”, with education, with a small State, with an urgent tax reduction, without bread and circuses, with judicial independence, truly republican and definitely free. Or “something” like what we already have. With mythomaniacs, hypocrites, satraps and authoritarians in power.
Faced with all this situation, the ballot boxes did what they were supposed to do: they shed some light, discarded candidates and directed others. In November we will know if all these issues will end up in “something” superlative or not. For now, everything seems to indicate that they will.