Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
30 October 2023

Argentinian elections and democracy

A lunch briefing by Yanina Welp, Research Fellow at AHCD, looks at the implications of the Argentinian elections for democracy.

Argentina was one of the first Latin American countries to re-establish democracy during the so-called Third Wave of Democratisation, and it was the only country to immediately open a case against the military crimes committed during its dictatorship. Despite many institutional crises in the form of four failed coup d’états, political crises with two Presidents who did not finish their terms, and social crises with large demonstrations occurring in 1989 and 2001, electoral democracy in Argentina seemed to have consolidated. However, the country’s abysmal economic performance in 2023, facing more than 100% inflation, has increased citizens' dissatisfaction and therefore challenges political stability. Thus, the October 2023 elections represent a key moment for the country's future.

On 24 October, a lunch briefing by Yanina Welp, Research Fellow at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy (AHCD), focused on the results of the first round of the elections. She outlined the two political proposals that will go to the second round on November 19, the emerging power distribution in the country, the features of its institutional framework, and the special characteristics of civil society in Argentina.

The arguments presented were the following. While in the open simultaneous and mandatory primaries conducted in August 2023, the big surprise was the flow of votes received by Libertad Avanza (a new party led by the anarcho-libertarian Javier Milei). In this first round the surprise came from the comfortable result obtained by the Peronist candidate, Sergio Massa. Milei has deployed a proposal against the political “caste”, proposing the dollarization of the economy, the elimination of the Central Bank, and a set of measures such as the replacement of the public education system for a system of vouchers, the free possession of weapons, or the breaking of ties with The Vatican (based on a personal conflict Milei has with Pope Francis). According to a good part of the opinion studies (surveys and ethnographies), his popular support comes more from fatigue with the state of things than from adherence to his proposals.

For his part, Welp continued, Massa is the Minister of Economy of a country with three-figure inflation and growing poverty (around 40%). How could his popularity be explained in the first round? Among others, one could point to the opposition's errors, particularly of Juntos por el Cambio, the fear aroused by Milei’s proposals, and the activation of the Peronist apparatus (subsidies, clientelist networks, etc.).

At the legislative level and considering the provincial elections that took place on the 22nd and those held during the year, the power distribution map leaves a Parliament in which no party has an absolute majority, although Peronism and related provincial parties are left with important margins of action. Regarding the subnational level, the opposition of Juntos por el Cambio has increased its presence (10 provinces out of 24). Milei’s party has not arrived at power in any of the provinces. An eventual victory for Libertad Avanza places it as a party without the capacity to govern due to lack of support.

Regarding institutions, Welp highlighted that Argentina is a “partycracy” in which political parties have a monopoly on representation (unlike other Latin American countries) and have a central role in electoral processes (as with the partisan ballot paper and partisan surveillance during the election day that requires a massive display of militants along the territory). The staggered election of deputies and senators gives stability to the system, given that parliament is the result not only of the last election but also the previous one (in the case of deputies) and the two previous (in the case of the senate, that renovates by thirds). All this contributes to limiting the arrival of outsiders.

Finally, the lunch briefing also highlighted the strength of organizations – labour unions, social movements, civil society organizations – as a characteristic of the country that encourages what the researcher describes as a “pluralism by default” in which various actors compete for power and by developing their agendas, making the system less permeable to authoritarianism but also inhibiting effective democratization due to the validity of strong clientelist networks.

Results of the Argentinian Elections: What are the Implications for Democracy?