October 5, 2010 § Leave a comment
Who lives there?: 40 million people. 14% identify as being of native descent, the remaining 86% are mostly of Spanish origin although there is a native Welsh speaking population in Patagonia. Up to 60% of the population have some degree of Italian ancestry and there are a large number of links, political, cultural and sporting, between the two countries.
Argentina claims the Falklands (or Malvinas) islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands which are administered by the UK. Argentina also claims an area of Antarctica – all of which is also claimed by the UK and part of which is claimed by Chile. Roughly 120 people live in 6 permanent Argentine bases and 70 odd temporary camps in Antarctica.
How does the system work? (the theory): Voting is compulsory. The president is the head of the executive and appoints a cabinet. They are directly elected every four years by a universal franchise first past the post election. Two rounds are held. If after the first round the leading candidate has more than 45% of the vote, or more than 40% with the second place candidate more than 10% behind them, then they are elected without a need for a second round. If these criteria are not met then the two highest placed candidates have a runoff vote. Presidents are limited to two terms.
The legislative branch is bicameral, with the lower house: the Chamber of Deputies having more power. The Chamber of Deputies contains 257 members elected every four years (half each every two years) by closed list proportional representation using the d’Hondt formula. Political parties need to overcome a threshold of 3% of the vote in a constituency to gain any seats at all. Constituencies are formed by the provinces with the number of seats proportionate to the population: so each constituency can elect between 13 (the largest) and 2 (the smallest) members each two years.
The senate is elected by a completely unique system. One third of provinces elect members every two years, so a term is six years. Voters cast their vote for a party list. Regardless of the percentage of the votes achieved each province then awards two seats to the party that gained the most votes and one seat for the party that gained the second highest number of votes. Thus each province elects 3 members.
Argentina is a federal republic and the 23 provinces and one autonomous city (effectively an urban province) enjoy a great degree of autonomy. Each province elects a governor by first past the post and is free to decide how best to govern itself. Eight provinces have chosen a bicameral model and 16 a unicameral model. The exact details of the scheme are up to the provinces but most bicameral schemes are based closely on that of the Government of Argentina and most unicameral schemes are based closely on the Chamber of Deputies.
Local government is determined by the provinces as well and so there are many different schemes. However most of Argentina has gone for a system of directly elected local mayors.
22 of the provinces have signed treaties with each other to form four regions or zones of economic co-operation.
How does the system work? (the practice): The federal government has the power to intervene and impose direct rule if it doesn’t like what a province is doing. In the last 30 years it has done so six times in four different provinces, provoking heated debate and controversy on each occasion.
Elections are free and fair but there are ongoing problems with corruption. Transition of power is not always accomplished via elections: in 2001, then President de la Rúa (Shakira‘s potential father-in-law) was forced out of office by rioters.
The loose nature of political alliances, and the amorphousness of political parties, in Argentina doesn’t help voters make a transparent choice. For example, if one were to vote for the Judicailist Party, the person you elect could well sit in any one of the 17 different factions of the Judicialists within parliament – only 11 of whom support the Government. There is also something of a mismatch between the slates candidates stand under and how they behave once elected – as is illustrated by the two “Free of the South” candidates: who were elected for one faction of the Judicialist party, spent their first term sitting with a different faction, and now sit as a left wing opposition party.
How did we get here?: Argentina has had a troubled history with democracy and has tried many different systems and suffered many military coups. The first non-violent transfer of power between one party and another did not take place until 1989. A long shadow is cast by the rule of Juan Peron – viewed by his many supporters as Argentina’s greatest president. He ruled between 1946 and 1955 and again briefly in 1974 . He founded “Peronism” – a combination of right wing ideas such as populist nationalism, “compassionate” authoritarianism and centralisation and left wing ideas such as major state programmes to tackle poverty. A tone deaf berk wrote a musical about his wife – she also served as president. Indeed Argentina is the only country in the world where a husband has been succeeded by his wife on two separate occasions.
The most recent military interregnum ended in 1983 when, having been humiliated in the Falklands war, the last dictatorship stood down and allowed free elections. Argentina has remained a democracy since. Carlos Menem of the peronist Judicialist Party was the most electorally successful leader – ruling between 1989 and 1999. However by the time he left office the state of Argentina’s finances was a mess which allowed a left-wing coalition led by radical liberal de la Rúa and his Radical Civic Union to take power.
They could not turn things around and Argentina was plunged into economic chaos, defaulting on its sovereign debt in 2001 (arguably only the second country ever to do so). This in turn led to a political crisis with four presidents coming and going within two weeks and a fifth within 18 months. Things only finally calmed down in 2003 when the left-wing preonist Néstor Kirchner became president at the head of a faction of the Judicialist party known as the Front for Victory. He only served one term but was succeeded by his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
The Judicialist party is very split on the question of weather to support the Kirchners – as a loose affiliation of local parties and groups different sections of the party have been allowed to support them whist others have been allowed to oppose them.
Who’s in charge?: Ms Kirchner won the presidency in 2007 on the first round on a Front for Victory ticket, more than doubling the vote of the second placed candidate of the centrist Civic Coalition.
The combined pro-Kirchner groups are the largest in both the houses of the legislative, although following the 2009 elections they do not have an absolute majority in either house (129 being needed in the Deputies, 37 in the senate).
In the House of Deputies the pro-Kirchner peronists have 113 seats (87 Front for victory, 7 Civic Front for Santiago (a local pro-Kirchner electoral pact), 5 New Popular and Social Front (left wing peronists), 3 Federalist Peronists (in 2 different factions), 11 from six local Judicialist partys who are pro Kirchner).
The principal opposition is a coalition which includes the centrists, the anti-Kirchner bits of the Judicialist party and the centre-left. It holds 106 seats (42 Radical Civic Union, 29 Judicialist Party members, 19 Civic Coalition, 6 Peronism without bosses (A vehicle for two of the presidents of 2001), 5 Civic and Social Agreement (an vehicle for an electoral pact of parties in the coalition in two areas), 1 Front for Everyone (moderates), 1 Federalists, 5 from three local anti Kirchner Judicialist Parties).
There is also a 16 strong centre right coalition called the Republican Proposal. It contains 12 members elected on that ticket and 4 others elected for four small local centre-right and liberal parties.
Then there is an 11 strong left-of-the-opposition-centre-left coalition formed of the 6-strong Socialist Party and the 5-strong Generation for a National Encounter (a breakaway faction of the Radical Civic Union)
Finally there is an 11 strong left-wing group. It contains three small regional left wing parties (5 Proyecto Sur, 2 Free of the South, 1 Dialogue for Buenos Aires) and 2 members from Solidarity and Equality – a once powerful centre-left party which split into multiple factions and was largely subsumed by other groups.
In the Senate the pro-Kirchner parties have 35 seats (31 Front for Victory, 1 Civic Front for Santiago, 3 from two different pro-Kirchner Judicialist Parties)
The principal opposition has 33 seats (14 Radical Civic Union, 1 Civic Coalition, 6 in three local groups allied with the Civic Coalition, 12 in nine local and Judicialist parties)
4 senators are unaligned: 1 from the Liberal Party of Corrientes, 1 from the left wing Alliance Front of Production and Labour, 1 from the Socialist Party and one independent from Salta.
What does it look like?: Largely plains or pampas, the west is dominated by the Andes mountain range.
What are the issues?: The economy has recovered markedly but after a promising period of growth has stalled again. Corruption is still a live issue. There have been many blackouts in recent months and addressing the energy shortage is a major concern. There are multiple campaigns for greater autonomy for various local areas
A good book is: Argentine Democracy: The Politics of Institutional Weakness has received rave reviews.
When are the next elections?: Presidential elections, half the Deputies and a third of the Senate are up in 2011.