Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Elections: "Una Farsa"

Sunday, June 28th was election day in Buenos Aires. Although President Kirchner will retain her position for another two years, national congressional representatives were running in an election that had major implications for the future of Argentina. Given the fact that I am receiving political science credit for my experience and considering my interest in decision science (including voting decisions), I decided that I would make the most of the opportunity presented to me.

So out I trudged into the frigid Buenos Aires air on an overcast day to interview voters. When I reached the polling place, a local primary school, I explored the area and found it to be more or less like US voting locations except that there were 3-4 levels of voting stations and each floor was packed with people trying to get to the voting rooms. I then proceeded outside to catch people as they made their way out of the voting area.

Surprisingly, I found it very difficult to approach people and ask them if they would mind talking to me about the election. I felt like one of an almost infinite number of peddlers in Argentina who approach walkers to try to get them to buy this or that or to spare a peso. The first person I asked rejected my invitation, but the second person turned into a jackpot. After asking her some questions about the election, I told her that I was a student of political science in the United States, and she told me that she was a political science professor here in Argentina. She brought her friend over, who was a retired political science professor. Together, the three of us began a great conversation about the election. To give you an idea of where this couple stood on the issues, the first words out of the gentleman's mouth when I asked him what he thought of the election, in general, was, "Es una farsa!" (It's a farce!)

After talking to the two of them for awhile outside of the polling place, they asked me if I would like to join the two of them for coffee at a cafe or if I had more interviews that I needed to do. Of course, they didn't they know that they were my first interviewees and that I probably should have gotten more of a diversity of perspectives, BUT the weather was so brisk, the two of them were so warm, and a good discussion about Argentina politics sounded perfect on national election day. I consented. And I am very glad I did. In addition to being treated to a great cup of coffee, galletitas (small cookies normally served with coffee) and a pastry, I had a great conversation with the two of them (entirely in Spanish). Among some of the things I learned from my discussion were the following:

  • Incapacitated people vote but it's really others voting for them like the heads of the mental wards (caudillism all over again)
  • Criminals/prisoners vote

  • Voting is obligatory (even for incapacitated people and criminals mentioned above)
  • Nobody knows how the votes are counted, especially in the countryside. Most likely, if there is any corruption, it is minimal and on an individual basis, but nobody can really be sure because there are not the same monitoring agencies as in the US.

  • Parties try to sway elections by giving out gifts and making promises.
  • There are currently five political parties in Argentina, which makes it hard for Congress or any one party to accomplish very much because there is never consensus.
  • Most Argentinians seem to have hope that things will improve, and the people have great faith in democracy and want to see its continued success.

The results of the elections were more or less as expected. President Christina Kirchner's party lost their power in congress. Furthermore, former President Néstor Kirchner lost his race for the LOWER house of Congress. That would be the equivalent of a former US president like George Bush running for a seat in the House of Representatives and losing. In the US, it would be extremely rare for a former president to run for a lower position, and even more rare for him to lose it. The main reason why Kirchner lost is that the country is fed up with both Néstor and Christina being in positions of power for so long (Christina was also a representative before being president at the same time as Néstor was president). Christina has also been heavily criticized for essentially allowing her husband to make all her decisions for her now that she is president. For better descriptions of the election results then I could possibly provide, look here: and here:

Finally, over the past month, I have been bombarded with political ads on billboards, in the subway, and on TV. I thought I would share some of the wealth with you in case you're interested in seeing what Argentine political propaganda looks like:


  1. Chris,

    That's amazing that you had that conversation with Argentine political science professors! Great post, I'm learning a lot :) How much longer are you staying there?


  2. Hey Catalina,

    I actually leave today to go out to Mendoza and then on to Chile to visit Santiago, Valparaiso, Vina del Mar, and perhaps another city or two. I then return to Buenos Aires on July 14th (but only for my flight back to the US).

    We have to catchup sometime soon! Thanks for your post.