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Elections around the world: Argentina

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Casa Rosada Argentina, Buenos Aires
Photo credit: pixabay/graphicalbrain cc0 public domain

A month ago many of us were shocked to see how Donald Trump won the American presidential election, despite almost all polls predicted a decisive loss for him.

In recent weeks social media networks have been full of petitions and articles related to how Hillary Rodham Clinton won the popular votes by over 2.7 million votes, whether the Electoral College should defy the election results and not vote for Trump, or whether the very system of the Electoral College is still a good way to choose the nation’s president.

Each country has different ways of electing or selecting its own leader, and each country seems to have some idiosyncrasies when it comes to elections.

One year ago from today (Dec. 10), a new president took office in Argentina, the second largest country in South America. Like Trump , president Mauricio Macri was a wealthy businessman (and like Trump, his father was an European immigrant who built a successful business). Like Trump, Macri promised change and end to corruptions.

On November 22, 2015, Mauricio Macri’s opponent, Daniel Scioli narrowly lost the presidential election. Scioli was endorsed by ex-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and belonged to the same political party as she did. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband, Nestor Carlos Kirchner (who was also the president of Argentina from 2003 to 2007) were extremely popular among working-class people, the poor, and students. Among others, the Kirchners put human rights at the top of their political agenda. Nestor decided to prosecute former military officers who took part in the military dictatorship (the Dirty War ) during the 1970s. Cristina’s government instituted many social programs and gave lots of support to arts and culture . Working with the members of Congress, she also helped pass the marriage equality law (same-sex marriages) and gender identity law . Perhaps more controversially, both Cristina and Nestor stood up to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and vulture funds managers in New York, who sought to collect past debts the government of Argentina owed U.S. billionaires.

Needless to say, those who voted for Daniel Scioli were very unhappy and protested in the streets. Mauricio Macri promised to pay the vulture funds and in order to do so, he would cut many social services and lay off tens of thousands of federal employees to save money. Many working-class and poor people were afraid that their jobs would be gone, and social safety net would be the next to go. Older people remembered the major economic crisis that happened in 2001.

Presidential elections in Argentina

Unlike the United States, Argentina has more than two viable major political parties. To make it even more complicating, sometimes, one political party could even nominate more than one presidential candidate if the party does not have a solid internal consensus (for example, in 2003, the Justicialist Party nominated both Carlos Menem and Nestor Kirchner — and both of them proceeded to the run-off). Under the 1994 revision of the Constitution of the Argentine Nation, the presidential election takes place every four years and a president can stand for reelection only once (same as the U.S.).

The Constitution institutes what is known as the instant run-off system.

This is actually a three-step process .

On August 9, 2015, there was the Mandatory Simultaneous Open Primary (las elecciones Primarias, Abiertas, Simultáneas y Obligatorias, better known as PASO). In this election, one candidate for presidency would emerge for each of the political parties or electoral alliances (the congressional majority, the Victory Front, is an electoral alliance consisting of several parties).

In the first general election (October 25, 2015) there were six candidates:

  • Nicolás del Caño/Myriam Bregman for Workers and Leftist Front (Frente de la Izquierta y de los Trabajadores)
  • Mauricio Macri/Gabriela Michetti, for Let’s Change (Cambiemos)
  • Sergio Massa/Gustavo Saenz, for the Renewal Front (Frente Renovador)
  • Adolfo Rodríguez Saá/Liliana Negre de Alonso for Federal Commitment (Compromiso Federal)
  • Daniel Scioli/Carlos Zannini, for the Victory Front (Frente para la Victoria)
  • Margarita Stolbizer/Miguel Angel Olaviaga for the Progressive Party (Progresistas)

If, on October 25, if any of these candidates could win at least 45 percent of all votes outright (in other words, a president can be elected without reaching a majority vote), or alternately, win 40 percent with the runner-up being at least 10 percent apart, he or she would become president. If none of them wins 45 percent, or wins between 40 to 44.9 percent but the top-performing rival receives more than 30 to 34.9 percent, then the two top candidates would proceed to what they call the balotaje, or ballotage.

The ballotage is basically a run-off election. It took place on November 22, 2015 . Macri won the majority by 51.34 percent while Scioli won 48.66 percent. Most of Macri’s support came from the so-called Gran Buenos Aires (Greater Buenos Aires): the majority of voters in both the Province of Buenos Aires and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (two are separate provincial-level entities) voted for Macri, while in other provinces, he was not as popular. Since Argentina has nothing similar to the U.S. Electoral College, the election was decided largely by big cities (Buenos Aires, Cordoba, and Rosario are the three largest metro areas) and not by rural provinces that are sparsely populated, such as Santa Cruz (home of the Kirchner family) and Tierra del Fuego.

Interesting facts about elections in Argentina

  • Voting is mandatory . Everyone has to vote and if you don’t vote you will be fined.
  • Voting age is 16
  • Ballots are pre-printed by candidates campaigns and they look like ads . They are usually full-color and features photos of the candidates and name of their party or alliance. When voting, you bring a ballot of your candidate, go to your polling place, put it in an official secrecy envelope and put it in the assigned ballot box.
  • Voter ID: Every voter must bring her or his DNI (national identification document) and voting ticket. The voting ticket specifies exactly where to vote.
  • In 2015, the presidential candidates in Argentina held the very first televised debates . This was done with technical assistance by the U.S. Embassy in Argentina, leading some to suspect that the CIA was involved in the Macri campaign.

The presidential inauguration

The presidential inauguration happens on December 10 following the presidential election. Since Argentina is in the southern hemisphere, it usually is a hot summer day.

A year ago, there was a bit of disagreement over the ceremony itself . When Cristina and Nestor Kirchner were inaugurated, the swearing-in happened in Congress and they received the symbols of presidency (presidential scepter, or el baston presidencial; sash, or la banda; and the music La Marcha de Ituzaingó ) right there and then. Macri wanted to go back to the old tradition by having a mile-long parade from Congress to Casa Rosada (the Pink House, or the presidential palace) and then receive the symbols at the White Room of Casa Rosada . This infuriated many of the more progressive folks, as the so-called old tradition of doing so actually happened when Argentina’s presidents were unelected military dictators — the despots (who were supported by the U.S. government ostensibly to fight the alleged encroachment of communism in Latin America ) who kidnapped, tortured, and murdered lots of lots of people.

The fight became ugly when then-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner ordered the silversmith who was making Macri’s scepter to hand over the scepter to her or be arrested. Cristina and her cabinet argued that her presidential term continues until noon on December 10, 2015 when Macri would be sworn in, she was within her power to dictate how the inauguration ceremony were to be run (note: in the U.S. this is not Obama’s job but the job of the joint congressional committee for presidential inauguration). The Macri team went to court to get an injunction, and a judge who was sympathetic to Macri ruled that Cristina’s presidential term would terminate at midnight, at the end of December 9, instead. For 12 hours, the Senate leader of Macri’s political party served as an interim president.

On December 9, the outgoing president made an impassioned speech at the Plaza de Mayo in front of a huge crowd .

Did you know?

The national anthem of Argentina is one of the longest ones in the world. The full version is over 25 minutes! Since it’s very, very long, usually the shortened version (which is five-minute-long) is sung. In sporting events such as soccer and the Olympics, there is an even shorter version that is only about one minute long.

There is also a sign language version of the anthem.

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Categories civics, geography

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