This week brought together an interesting fusion of political dramas here in Buenos Aires.  I have to say it was quite exciting being on the other end of the US political scandal when the news broke of Governor Sanford’s Argentine escapade.  With today being the much anticipated date of Argentina’s midterm elections, I was starting to get that familiar political buzz, almost as though I had hardly left DC!  And, if there were any lingering uncertainties, now that Mark Sanford’s so-called mistress has been publicly named, you can all stop wondering what I was doing, and why I called in sick last week.  Don’t worry, it wasn’t the H1N1.

Congreso Nacional

Congreso Nacional

Actually, the story of Mark Sanford’s philandering and political future hasn’t really seemed to faze Argentineans much at all.  For one, Argentineans are known to be more understanding of extramarital affairs, especially in the political arena. But really, recent political attention has been fixated on their own political dramas, and the upcoming midterm election, which was expected to determine the political fate of Argentina’s first couple, Cristina and Nestor Kirchner.

Over the past three weeks I’ve heard my colleagues at Asociacion Para Politicas Publicas say more than once that various political developments (or in our case, support for the disarming domestic violence campaign) are on hold until after the elections, which were held throughout the country today.  I don’t want to speculate too much on a topic I only know very little about, but I wanted to share some of what I have read and learned from talking with AR friends and colleagues, including the anecdotal commentary I’ve gathered about the current political climate in Argentina.  I’ll leave the rest for you all to read about in the world news section of your favorite newspaper.

"For everything they did well. For everything you need."

"For everything they did well. For everything you need."

Argentina is one of only 10 other countries currently boasting a female head of state, and in a country where machismo attitudes prevail, I would think that this achievement would be no small feat. The history of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s rise to power, however, seems to unfold much like one of Latin America’s infamous telenovelas(minus perhaps the infidelity component).

It was Cristina’s husband Nestor Kirchner who was first elected president of Argentina back in 2003, running on a Peronista party platform and beating his then unpopular predecessor Menem a few years after the economic collapse in Argentina had set in (Wikipedia).  Mr. Kirchner served one term in office, during which time, it was widely thought that first lady Cristina was the one who was really running the show, directing her husband’s political policies from behind the scenes. And so it might not have been too surprising when, despite his high approval ratings, Nestor announced he would not seek a second term, and in 2007 Mrs. Kirchner ran for and was elected the president of Argentina.

Their political saga take a bit more of an interesting twist when Cristina takes office, and remors begin that it is actually Nestor who is now running the Argentine political show! Go figure.

Campaign posters ontop of campaing posters in Buenos Aires

Campaign posters on top of campaign posters in Buenos Aires

Whichever one or combination of the two it may be, the Kirchner couple’s popularity has dwindledand with Nestor running for a congressional seat in the Buenos Aires province, the outcome of today’s elections will be an informal referendum on the couple’s political future.

National Election Registry

National Election Registry

Returning to the telenovela of politics, and to Argentina’s tolerance, or rather attraction, for drama in the political arena, it seems that politicos serve just as much for entertainment value as anything else. With many young people complaining that “they [political parties] are all the same”, it’s no wonder they are enamored with the humorous impersonation of Argentine political figures in the show “Gran Cuñado” (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/27/world/americas/27argentina.html?ref=world).

With today’s election shifting prospects for the 2011 presidential elections, the outcome is sure to be significant in the political playing field.  Of course it doesn’t help that the economy, one of Argentina’s prime political concerns, continues to suffer and the Kirchner’s legacy is rife with allegations of widespread corruption on their part. I just hope now that the election is over, they don’t stop fixing the sidewalks and picking up the trash.

Friendly directions to the next polling location

Friendly directions to the next polling location

Three things I never knew about elections in Argentina:

1. Midterm elections are party elections, so voters will vote for a political party rather than an individual candidate.

2. The sale of alcohol is strictly prohibited on the day before and the day of an election.  Why, you might ask?  The most common answer I’ve heard is, to prevent the engaged citizen from getting drunk, showing up at the polls, and accidentally voting for the wrong candidate (or party, in this case).

3. Political party affiliation is deeply connected to one’s personal family history, and in the most simple terms could be broken down into pro-Peron and anti-Peronista parties.  It gets a bit more complicated when you start to break down family loyalties on the basis of political versus economic history. I’ll be sure to elaborate if I manage to develop more clarity on these distinctions.

Results from today’s election should appear in international news accros the globe.

Showing up at the polls to vote

Showing up at the polls to vote

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