02 February 2007

The 2007 campaign

The campaign for the governor election in Santa Fe is getting hotter... or should I say the pre-campaign, since there are formally no candidates yet, no parties or alliances already in the register that must be compiled months before the election.

Before you go away, I may as well explain why this is important. As anybody who's been living under a democracy for a while knows, elections almost never change anything — 99% of the times it's the same people or their clones trying to get you to vote for them with all sorts of empty promises, oblique threats, lies, lies, more lies, mud-slinging, sentimental pleas, appeals to your pocket or your ethics, etc., and once they're elected they resume their daily routine, some jobs and titles exchanged for others. Well, this might be one of the 1%.

The reasons:

  • This is the first governor election since 1991 without the Ley de Lemas. I'll spare you the details here. The Lemas electoral system allowed Peronism to steal the election twice.
  • The established Socialist candidate, Hermes Binner (twice mayor of Rosario), is leading the surveys. If he wins, he'll be the first Socialist governor in the history of Argentina.
  • The established Peronist candidates are both linked to Rosario as well; one was born here (though he was exiled in Europe and then moved to Buenos Aires) and the other has lived and made its political career in Rosario since his youth.
  • Given the two points above, the next governor of Santa Fe is practically sure to be a man of Rosario, ending (we hope) a long string of rulers that have consistently economically and politically discriminated against the largest and most important city in the province. This might lead to a better share of funds for Rosario, and to the attainment of a long sought after dream: municipal autonomy, à la Buenos Aires City.
Besides those specific points, a change from the Justicialist Party to the Socialist Party (well, to any other party) should revolutionize the whole provincial state. The Peronists have stayed in power since 1983. The governors and vice-governors up to 1991 were uniformly awful and utterly corrupt. In 1991 came Carlos Reutemann, a former F1 race driver sponsored by the dreaded Carlos Menem. Reutemann, a man with zero charisma, zero ability to rule, zero everything except a public figure, was a success with the masses, and one of the first examples of the modern tactic of recruiting popular characters (no matter how frivolous or dumb) to get votes. His merit, as acknowledged by the public, was that he didn't steal; others said he was a good administrator. He froze salaries and expenditure, sat down and waited as the stars moved above his head. In 1995 came Jorge Obeid, who stole the election from the Radical Party candidate Raúl Usandizaga by adding up the votes of the sold-out ex-Socialist Héctor Cavallero to his own using the Ley de Lemas. In 1999 Reutemann was re-elected. He oversaw a horrible crisis with a straight face, survived a couple of scandals, and in 2003 again he left the post to Obeid, who has since devoted his time to visiting Cuba, inaugurating unfinished public works, and appearing in pictures with President Kirchner.

All this time the province has been stumbling through history, guided by an automatic pilot. Its much-touted record fiscal surplus is more a product of automatic taxation on its immense wealth than a sign of good administration, and its progress in later years can be directly attributable to the overall recovery of Argentina, even moreso as it's powered by the export of agricultural commodities. The public sector is bloated and inefficient, the judicial branch is full of dark, corrupt judges protected by the political establishment, the ministries and secretaries are occupied by political operators without skills, policies and their application are irregular, episodical, never fixed, and oriented to the spectacular and to the populist.

Is that different from any other provincial administration in Argentina, or from other local and national governments in the Third World? Probably not. Can it be easily improved? Undoubtedly yes. Will it improve if the party in power changes? Probably, judging by the results that the Socialist administrations have produced in Rosario since 1989, and especially since the degradation brought about by almost a quarter of a century of Peronist rule is due mostly to stagnation and to the naturalization of bad habits.

The two main Peronist candidates are now at each other's throats, as usual; it's not that they have ideological disagreements or fight over policies (what?), but they want power and they can't both have it. Binner watches from afar and has but completely forced the hardliners of the Radical Civic Union, his allies, to choose the vice-governor candidate that he likes, the extra-party Santa Fe federal prosecutor Griselda Tessio. Isn't that nice?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous13:14

    I can't seem to find an email address so that I can email you directly so I'll leave a comment. I'm spending one month in Mendoza beginning in March and I can't tell you how helpful your blog has been in terms of explaining the political environment, electricity problems, weather difficulties, travels in and around Rosario, etc, etc. You don't get many comments but I encourage you to maintain your blog. It is excellent work.


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