Sunday, December 26, 2010

FDA Assessment of Argentina



Argentina Political System


A federal republic multi-party state headed by the Executive in the form of a President, currently Cristina Kirchner, whose term is 4 years; incumbents are allowed to stand for 2 terms. Presidential duties are Chief of State, Head of the Government & Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.

The Presidential Electoral System – Two rounds voting is by party-list proportional representation (List PR).

Presidents and Vice-Presidents are elected directly through universal suffrage. To avoid a run-off, candidates must receive at least 45% or if the main candidate has 40% of the vote but is without a margin of 10%, then a 2nd round takes place.

The Vice-President, currently Julio Cobos is part of the Legislative and is President of the Senate. Cobos holds full power of the Executive when Kirchner is away from Office on State visits for example and can introduce legislation if so desired that runs contrary to that of the President.

Legislature made up of 2 chambers (bicameral):

Camara de Diputados, Chamber of Deputies or Lower Chamber consists of 257 members who serve 4 years the Chamber is elected by List PR. Half the seats are renewed every 2 years and are eligible to stand for re-election. However, party lists are closed. The threshold is 3% also 1/3rd of the parties candidates must be represented by women.

Senado or Senate formed of 72 Senators, representing the provinces and the autonomous Buenos Aires, sit for 6 years. The voting covers 23 provinces in addition to Buenos Aires with 3 seats available per electoral district. A 3rd of these seats are renewed on a 2 yearly cycle. The 3 seats are awarded thus, 2 to the party who gains the most votes and the 3rd going to the 2nd most voted for party.

The 25 provinces have their own electoral laws.

The Judiciary is kept independent of the Government and has 7 or 9 judges who sit in the Supreme Federal Court.


Main Parties

Political Parties – 713 Political Parties of which 34 operate at the national level.

Frente Para la Victoria (Front for Victory or FV) - Kirchner

Justicialist or Peronist Party (JP) – centrist, working class & labour unions

Union Civica Radical or Radicals (Radical Civic Union - UCR) – conservative, middle class

Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal – RP)

Coalicion Civico (Civic Coalition – CC)

Partido Socialista (PS or Socialist Party)

The turnout in both Parliamentary and Presidential elections has been 70% or above the last 3 elections, with impressive figures throughout a (still) considerably healthy voter participation when compared to the US and some European countries statistics. For more detailed voter turnout information since 1946 to date, please click on link: http://www.idea.int/vt/country_view.cfm?CountryCode=AR

Population (at 2009 election) – 40,913,583

Registered Voters (at 2009 election) - 26,098,546


Dangers

Argentina has generally moved on from the perceived “bad” old days of military coup and intervention when the Generals overthrew civilian government and formed a ruling Junta. The final straw was the loss of the Falklands War in the early 80’s that undermined the military rulers authority and legitimacy. When free elections took place, Alfonsin of the JP became President and slowly loosened the military’s size and power over the country. After successive civilian governments, the current state of the military is a much reduced Army. It consists entirely of volunteers and is kept busy and focussed on peace keeping and humanitarian operations with the UN around the globe.

The country has a recent history of social and economic problems which lead to civilian protest and unrest. If the population feels pressure of recession, inflation and job losses, they will protest and raise their voices in anger. This readiness to demonstrate can and has lead into conflict with the authorities in the form of mass dissent, riots and street battles. This lack of fear to take to the streets to voice displeasure could possibly be used by disgruntled and organised forces to destabilise any newly formed governments, especially those with a small majority or minority coalition administration. However, it seems an unlikely proposition due to the safeguards implemented by successive legislation since the Juntas.

The British Foreign Office – “Despite a strong recovery, the economic and political crisis of 2001-02 has left its mark, particularly in the form of increased inequality and poverty. With around 35% of the population living below the poverty line there are occasional outbreaks of social unrest and demonstrations, which at times turn violent. You should monitor local media and avoid planned demonstrations and public gatherings.”

There appears to be a decreasing turnout, trending downwards from the peak of 90%, 20 years ago. It would be interesting to be aware of the actual numbers for the 2011 election. Possible reasons for this lesser inclusion could be a general trend in democracies losing voters (?) Many democracies appear to suffer from voters voting for whom their parents voted for and may lack a questioning and breaking of habits, which if a voter becomes disenfranchised from their “usual” party may lead to them refusing to vote.

Political life in Argentina may be overly influenced by historical family tendencies, e.g. JP and the Peron family. A healthy democracy should have a fluid unencumbered input bereft of elites. Argentina politics, it can be argued, has been overly reliant on family ties. These embedded schisms have led to some divisive internal and traditional party politics with disparate factions growing within the traditional parties that have in turn caused splinter parties to form, e.g. the Peronist Party hybridising into various different parties, the Kirchner’s FV is an off shoot of the JP. This may have had adverse effect on the electoral population becoming less than enthusiastic in politics and whose expectations in the current parties are fading.

Corruption within Argentina is still a perceived problem with a cynical population who lack trusted opposition. Kirchner appears to favour governors who back her policies when distributing budget monies across the country, to the detriment of regions whose politicians and councillors have disagreed with her.

A Free and Fair Election?

Prospects are high for a clean election without interference from interested parties, although there does appear to be some interference with the media by the State with investigative journalists in particular at risk of intimidation.

The military is now more or less nullified and there does not appear to be militia or overly active organised cabals roaming the streets.

There is no discernable foreign influence in Argentina, however the country has access to newly found gas and oil fields that have led to recent economic deals with Russia and China. How the US views these developments is not certain.

From the research carried out and with the recent history of elections it would be a pretty certain that the next elections will be both free and fair. The mechanisms in place within Argentina seem to be both robust and without interference.

By Torben Attrup, FDA Manager and Researcher

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