Kirchner’s bonapartist experiment comes to an end in Argentina

Kirchner’s bonapartist experiment comes to an end in Argentina

Change is gaining momentum over continuity as Kirchner’s party struggles to win reelection in Argentina.

Change over continuity is the takeaway from what could be remembered as one of the most remarkable elections in Argentinean living memory. On Oct 24, 2015, Argentina expressed its fatigue over the schizophrenically hostile and antagonistic ​manners that characterized the last 12 years of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner​’s bonapartism.

On Sunday, Oct 24, against all odds and forecasts, Mauricio Macri’s conservative Cambiemos Party not only improved upon its past performance, but forced the government frontrunner and Kirchner-endorsed Daniel Scioli into a second round of runoff voting on November 22.

After Argentine voters spoke out against Kirchnerism and populism on Sunday, business took note on Monday. Optimism flooded the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange, which rose 4.4%; Wall Street rallied behind Argentinean energy and financial shares, which suddenly skyrocketed; and even defaulted sovereign bonds saw their value advance and yields plunge, signaling rising international confidence. The private sector seems confident that Macri could be the one to finally resolve the Gordian Knot of the economy that Kirchner has entangled over the years.


The Argentine electoral system is strongly biased towards presidentialism: a winner-take-all logic that foster personalisms exacerbating the role of the executive power.

By constitutional amendment, the electoral law requires that only those candidates who achieve a decisive majority of popular support would be awarded the presidency. Otherwise, there would forcibly be a second round between the two frontrunners, in what is known as ‘Ballotage’.

Candidates shall sum up over 45% of total valid votes, or at least 40% plus a 10 point lead over the runner-up. If none of these criteria are met, the two top candidates will be forced to undertake a second round, in which anyone who accounts for 50% plus 1 vote will be immediately awarded the presidency.

Continuity or Change

Over the past 12 years of Kirchnerist government, the presidential race has been defined by two distinctive propositions: ‘Continuity or Change’. The main electoral platforms have been rather straightforward with regards to their standpoint to such debate.

The incumbent “Front for Victory” party (FPV) stands for the ‘The Continuity of the Kirchnerist economic model’. It is led by Daniel Scioli, Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires.

Promoting a ‘Continuity with some changes’ is Sergio Massa. Former Chief of Cabinet of Christina Fernandez de Kirchner from 2008 to 2009, Massa leads the “United for a New Alternative” party (UNA), which attracts Peronist voters who have felt betrayed by Kirchner.

Meanwhile, pushing for fully-fledged ‘Change’ is Mauricio Macri and his blatantly titled “Let’s Change” alliance (Cambiemos), which brings together a wide range of opposition parties together.  

While Scioli expected to cross the 40% mark and surpass his runner-up by 10 points, he actually obtained just 36.8%. Meanwhile, Macri virtually tied him with 34.3%, trailing behind Sergio Massa with 21%, and the rest of the votes scattered between other smaller parties. Because no party has achieved a majority of seats the Lower Chamber, quorum will have to be negotiated.

With a record high 80% turnout, voters massively took to the ballot boxes and 63% expressed–in one way or another–their discontent with the current administration and its candidate Scioli.  

Scioli and Macri are now headed to the first electoral face-off in Argentine history on November 22. However, it is Massa who stands as the arbiter in this dispute, having the enough electoral capital to become the Kingmaker.

Buenos Aires Province, mother of all battles

Earlier discounted as a comfortable victory for the Government, the Province of Buenos Aires suddenly became the epicenter of Kirchner’s crushing defeat, offering the worst electoral results for the Peronist movement since 1962. Historically a Peronist stronghold, Buenos Aires was electorally overrun by a triumphant Cambiemos party, quashing the myth of government’s impregnability.

Anibal Fernandez, longtime ally and current Cabinet chief, was handpicked by Kirchner for his unwavering devotion and loyalty, incarnating the ideal of a Kirchnerist zealot. However, his public image is nothing short of terrible, as he became the target of numerous accusations, from heading corruption schemes to leading a band of drug traffickers and assassins.

Fernandez lost the provincial elections, 34% against 39.8%, to Maria Eugenia Vidal of the Cambiemos Party. Fernandez then became the marshal of a crushing defeat, having lost the province to a young Political Scientist with no Peronist background.

Due to the sheer weight of Buenos Aires Province, the victory of Cambiemos over FPV has tipped the balance in an unprecedented way. Elections in Argentina have a strong geopolitical context, and this one was no exception. Cambiemos Party gained nearly 60% of votes in Cordoba Province, and won in the other three richest and most populated districts, Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, and Mendoza Provinces, illustrating that the party has gained support of the most productive areas and the largest cities.

Argentina maps

Maps from left to right: Electoral map by district, as of October 24. Blue (Scioli). Yellow (Macri). Note that the most productive and populated regions massively leaning towards Macri (Cambiemos Party); GDP distribution map; population density map.

Massa landed outside of the second round, but he has the means to crown victorious either leading candidate. However, he has little motivation to help out his old ally Daniel Scioli. He took note about the popular demand for change, and could use this opportunity in his favor.

By supporting Macri and the Cambiemos alliance, Massa could become the future leader of Peronism once Kirchnerism is defeated, avoiding a lengthy battle against them. Massa could absorb the wavering congressmen and  senators of a defeated Kirchnerism to then become the foremost opposition force against a Macri-led Government.

‘Change’ is gaining momentum over ‘Continuity’. Kirchner’s party fears a crushing defeat. Thus, faithful to their tradition, they will likely use all imaginable means to undermine the legitimacy of Macri, as well as pass him on a nearly bankrupted state and force him to undertake unpopular sanitation of the public accounts.

In spite of this tumultuous transition, markets will keep an optimistic outlook as Argentina finally changes its course.

Categories: Latin America, Politics

About Author

Martin De Angelis

Martin F. De Angelis is a political and security risks analyst with a focus on Latin America. He has lived and worked in the US, UK and Cuba. He is a former US DoS Fulbright Scholar and UK FCO Chevening Fellow. Martin has been broadcast by BBC, AlJazeera, SkyNewsHD, Euronews and other media. He holds a Licentiate degree in Political Science from the University of Buenos Aires, an MA in Strategy and Geopolitics from the Army War College of Argentina and an MSc in International Relations Theory by the London School of Economics [LSE] with Merits.