Argentina’s politics are often dramatic, but yesterday’s presidential election was essentially drama-free. My perception of that, though, may have something to do with passing the day in Chacras de Coria, the upper-upper-middle-class enclave in Gran Mendoza, the suburban communities that surround the relatively small provincial capital.
In the course of the last three days, I saw little evidence of controversy in the closely contested race. Winning candidate Mauricio Macri, who won by about three percentage points, had relatively few electoral posters here, all enclosed on small billboards (pictured above). I saw none at all for losing candidate Daniel Scioli, who was considered a strong nation-wide favorite before eking out only a narrow plurality in the first round in late October.
I spent most of the morning writing before leaving my accommodations for lunch and, when I strolled by the local polling place in mid-afternoon, there were no lines. For someone whose first experience of Argentina came during the 1976-83 military dictatorship, though, it was disconcerting to see police and soldiers with automatic weapons standing guard (at right, above) at the school where voting took place. Few areas in this country are more secure than Chacras.
In theory, Argentina enforces an alcohol-free period from 8 p.m. the night before the election until three hours after the polls close at 6 p.m. on election day. In principle, this sounds like a good idea but, when I’ve asked my Argentine friends whether their countrymen vote better drunk or sober, nobody’s quite sure. When I strolled through town Saturday night, there were bottles of beer and wine on sidewalk tables and, when I ate lunch yesterday the couple at the next table were sharing a large bottle of Stella Artois (pictured above).
However ineffective the alcohol ban may be, I think the US could learn something from Argentina’s elections. It’s admirable that 80 percent of the electorate turns out to vote (voting is obligatory, but the penalty for not doing so is insignificant); in the US, though, some states have made scandalous efforts to suppress voter participation. The quick turnover of government is also worth considering – Macri will take office in about three weeks, instead of the roughly 2-1/2 months that leaves the outgoing US president as a lame duck.
While Macri’s victory was a clear one, he won’t have an easy road. On both domestic and international stages, unlike outgoing president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, he’s likely to be less confrontational on issues like hedge fund debt settlement and the Falkland Islands (which Argentina claims as the Malvinas). Still, many of her partisans despise Macri and will provide strong congressional (and even extra-congressional) opposition, though it’s encouraging that she publicly congratulated him on the victory and met with him today.
I spent quite a bit of time since Friday chatting with Daniel Alessio, a former mountain guide who’s my host at Parador del Ángel (pictured above). Daniel, whom I’ve known for some years, is a political junkie who’s out of step with most of his neighbors in the privileged environment of Chacras, though he himself runs a very attractive accommodations on beautifully landscaped grounds, that draws a pretty prosperous clientele. It will interesting to see how Macri manages a delicate balancing act between the country’s polarized extremes.