The first round of Presidential elections in Argentina have left former Peronist President Carlos Menem in a run off with the government backed Néstor Kirchner, also a Peronist standing for the Unión de Centro Democrático. These elections have revealed a massive political fragmentation amongst all of the parties. As the Spanish daily El País commented the elections have shown: "…an historic political fragmentation" (24 April 2003). There were three Peronists candidates, three former members of Unión Cívica Radical, four candidates from the socialist left and three supporters of the military, retired generals.

Menem and Kirchner have supported rightwing pro-capitalist policies and offer nothing for the working class and poor in Argentina.

Kirchner supports more state intervention in the economy and a more ‘traditional’ Peronist policy of radical populist nationalism, which is why his support increased during the campaign, he is not a friend of the working class. Menem, pioneered the IMF privatisation programme in Argentina. His programme was of a Thatcherite neo-liberal one which marked a break with the traditional policies of previous Peronist governments. They had implemented radical populist nationalist policies which included state intervention.

Corrupt politicians

Menem is from the corrupt caste of pro-capitalist politicians who have aroused the bitter hatred of the Argentinean masses. Although he was acquitted of ‘corruption’ for illegal arms smuggling to Ecuador and Croatia he was found to have a Swiss bank account with hundred of thousands of US dollars in it. Mass protests and uprisings brought five governments crashing down in a matter of weeks during December 2001 and January 2002 as a financial and economic crisis shook Argentina to its social foundations.

Kirchner has the backing of the current President, Eduardo Duhalde and also supports capitalism. If elected however he could be forced by the mass movement and a further economic crisis to adopt more radical nationalist populist policies such as supporting state intervention and defaulting on the foreign debt.

Socialists cannot support either in the second round. This shows the urgent need to build a mass socialist alternative by workers, young people, the unemployed and urban poor.

These election results unfortunately represent a disappointment for working class of Argentina. Menem has emerged as the leading candidate with almost 25% of the vote to Kirchner’s 19.38%. The results show the absence of a mass socialist alternative. It is now possible that Menem will win the second round although this is far from certain. He has pledged to ‘crack down’ on the daily protests which continue by the unemployed organised in the ‘piqueteros’ movement.

The bitter hatred of the established political parties was previously reflected in massive abstention levels. In the 2001 legislative election 41% either voted ‘blank’ or white - i.e. turned up to vote and voted against all of the candidates. However, this was not the case in these elections. The ‘white’ votes (0.89%) and ‘blank’ votes (1.62%) represent the lowest number of these types of votes cast since the first elections following military rule were held in 1983.

In these elections the various ‘Trotskyist’ parties also failed to win substantial support. The largest vote went to Patricia Walsh from the Izquierda Unida - United Left - dominated by the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores which won 337,166 votes - 1.75% of the total. In 1989 the Izuierda Unida won 2.5% of the votes caste.

Impasse

The elections reveal the impasse which exists in Argentina. The economic crisis has left the mass of the population devastated. Despite claims of a small economic revival, a staggering 57.5% of the population still live below the official poverty line. In the poorest districts around Buenos Aires the infant mortality rate has reached a staggering 30%. Of a total population of 37 million an estimated 10 million do not have even the minimum level of food declared necessary by the UN and have no access to drinking water and electricity. This is in a country which boasted the highest standard of living in Latin America and during the 1930’s was the ninth wealthiest economy per head in the world.

The enormous social mobilisations by the masses, which overthrew five Presidents during December2001 and January 2002 are faced with the need to forge an alternative to capitalism. The anger of the masses was directed against the corrupt politicians and the system they represent. However, the idea of a democratic socialist planned economy and socialism as an alternative to capitalism has not yet been embraced by the working class. Neither has it been clearly explained by any party with a sufficiently powerful authority and support amongst the working class.

This has been further complicated by the failure of the ‘Trotskyist’ parties to sufficiently engage with the mass of workers and youth and win their confidence. Moreover, the former ‘Trotskyist’ Luis Zamora, who enjoyed widespread support, has abandoned the idea of building a mass socialist workers’ party and refused to stand in the elections thereby, stepping aside from this struggle. While it is unlikely Zamora would have won the elections, through the election campaign he could have used his influence to mobilise thousands of workers and youth and taken the necessary steps to form the outline of a new mass socialist workers party that could offer an alternative.

The desperation of the economic situation, exhaustion and a degree of demoralisation has meant that Menem and other Peronist leaders where able to win a certain electoral support. Out of desperation and the absence of an alternative, voters returned to the political corpses of the past in a desperate hope of reviving these ghosts re-establishing some of the stability and economic growth of previous years. The Spanish daily El País concluded: "The ex-President Menem represented for his voters a period of economic well- being in which ‘everything was cheap’ and there was not so much insecurity." (28 April 2003). This was aided by a demand for a return to order and stability following more than a year of social and economic collapse. Menem was able to pledge that he would end the protests of the ‘piqueteras’ which won him support amongst some sections of the middle class.

Those who voted for Menem hoping he will be able to ‘bring back the good times’ will be disappointed in the coming period. On a capitalist basis the ‘good times for Argentina’ are over.

Following the elections the crisis facing Argentina will continue. Whoever wins the elections will be faced with a continuing social and economic crisis and further splits and divisions amongst the political parties. In the Congress there are now three distinct blocks of Peronist Deputies reflecting the three Presidential candidates. Neither Menem nor Kirchner will be able to form a stable government.

The task facing the working class in Argentina is to build a mass socialist party that will offer an alternative to the rubble left by capitalism. During future struggles and mobilisations, assisted by the intervention of Marxists, the forces that can lead to the building of a mass socialist alternative to the existing capitalist politicians will develop.

A more detailed analysis of the Presidential elections will be written following the second round of the elections and will be available on the CWI website.

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