Argentina’s Peronists looks set to lose Senate control

Argentina’s Peronists looks set to lose Senate control

Voters in Argentina have dealt a heavy blow to the ruling Peronist party in midterm elections, according to preliminary results, with the centre-left party of President Albert Fernandez on track to lose its majority in the Senate after almost 40 years.

With a majority of national votes tallied on Sunday, the conservative opposition Juntos held strong leads in key swing Senate races, a development that would see it erase the ruling party’s majority and hobble Fernandez’s ability to push through legislation without opposition support.

Juntos was also ahead in races for lower-house seats, including an important battle in the populous province of Buenos Aires, usually a stronghold for the Peronists.

Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo described Sunday’s vote as “an enormous test for the administration of Alberto Fernandez, especially after two years of the pandemic”.

“The first reports we are getting is that the Peronist Party could be about to lose the quorum in the Senate. And this is something that’s historic for the ruling party, it’s the first time that something like this is happening since Argentina turned into a democracy back in the 1980s,” she said.

“For Alberto Fernandez, it’s a very tense situation. He has two years left and those two years are going to be extremely difficult if these results are confirmed,” she added.

General view of the Juntos por el Cambio party members celebrating after mid-term parliamentary elections in Buenos Aires on November 14, 2021 [Alejandro Pagni/ AFP]

‘Tough two years ahead’

Roughly 34 million Argentines were eligible to vote in Sunday’s election, which will select 127 national seats throughout the country, representing half the seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 24 national senators in eight provinces, equivalent to a third of the Senate.

Voting went smoothly under sunny skies in the Southern Hemisphere spring, but many voters were angry or downcast amid rampant inflation running above 50 percent and high poverty levels sharpened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know very few people who make enough money to get to the end of the month,” said Ricardo Arese, 69, a security guard in the capital Buenos Aires. His household expenses have risen 300 percent since 2016, he said, and he sees little reason for optimism.

“We’re looking at a very tough two years ahead.”

“I’m here to vote with the hope that everything will change. We are tired,” said Mirta Laria, 62, a housewife in Buenos Aires. “Every day we are a bit worse off and the sad thing is that our children only see a way out for their life abroad.”

Fernandez’s popularity has been hit due to COVID-19 lockdowns, spiralling inflation and a currency that is hitting record lows against the US dollar despite strict capital controls. The government has tried to boost support, announcing last month a deal with the private sector to freeze prices on more than 1,500 basic goods, as well as increasing the minimum wage and family allowances.

Ignacio Labaqui, Argentina analyst at New York-based consultancy Medley Global Advisors, said a significant loss would mean Fernandez would be left with “little political power, as a part of coalition full of internal grievances and with a pile of economic problems to fix, starting with inflation”.

Argentina’s Vice President Cristina Kirchner waves at supporters next to Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez at the closing campaign rally before midterm elections, in Merlo, Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 11, 2021 [Matias Baglietto/ Reuters]

 After casting his vote, Fernandez promised to fight on regardless of the result, despite experts saying he would face a power struggle with the more radical wing of his party allied to influential Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

“Tonight we will hear what the people have said. Tomorrow … Argentina continues, with all the strength to keep governing and doing what we have to do so that the country is well,” he said.

Since the country’s economic meltdown in the early 2000s, which threw millions of middle-class Argentines into poverty, many families have come to rely on social spending by Peronist governments.

One voter said she was sticking with the ruling party as she felt part of the “Peronist family”.

Another voter, Graciela Pacri, a 47-year-old housewife with four children, said state support was vital to surviving amid hard economic times.

“If it weren’t for a subsidy I have, I don’t know how I would live since it is difficult to find work,” she said.