Argentine president’s coalition loses majority in midterm elections

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Argentina’s center-left President Alberto Fernandez has called for dialogue with the opposition following Sunday’s midterm legislative elections, with projections showing his ruling coalition has lost control of Congress.

Already in the minority in the lower chamber of the Chamber of Deputies, Fernandez’s Frente de Todos (Front de tous) coalition should drop from 41 to 35 seats out of the 72 members of the Senate, on the basis of projections with more than 90% of the vote counted.

“If the numbers are confirmed, we have effectively lost the quorum in the Senate,” a government source told AFP.

Prior to the election, there was widespread discontent with an economy hit hard by the Covid pandemic.

Fernandez will now likely be forced to make concessions to the opposition in the last two years of his tenure in order to pass laws or make key appointments, including to the bench.

“We must prioritize national agreements if we are to resolve the challenges we face,” Fernandez said in a speech, adding that he would approach opposition groups to try to find common ground on an agenda. .

“A responsible opposition and open to dialogue is a patriotic opposition”, he declared, adding that he hoped for a cooperation which would be “fruitful, for the general interest of the country”.

Almost half of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies were up for grabs, along with a third of the seats in the Senate in Sunday’s vote.

Interior Minister Wado de Pedro said turnout in compulsory elections ranged from 71 to 72 percent.

IMF debt looms

Fernandez has been on the defensive since the Frente suffered a stinging defeat in the September primaries, garnering just 33% of the vote against 37% for the main opposition group Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change), led by the Fernandez’s predecessor, Mauricio Macri. .

The country has been in recession since 2018, with GDP down 9.9% last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Argentina has one of the highest inflation rates in the world, at 40 percent so far this year, and a poverty rate of 42 percent for a population of 45 million.

“I fear for the economy,” pastry chef Oscar Navarro told AFP on Sunday, without revealing his vote. “Wages are not enough. Whoever wins, it will take a long time for the country to recover.”

The setback in the primaries sparked a political crisis between Fernandez and his vice-president and coalition partner Cristina Kirchner, who pressured his boss for a cabinet reshuffle in the hope of appeasing an increasingly frustrated electorate.

The government is also in the midst of a delicate renegotiation with the International Monetary Fund over the repayment of a $ 44 billion debt, initially guaranteed by the Macri government in 2018.

“In this new step, we will intensify our efforts to reach a lasting agreement with the IMF,” Fernandez said.

He said the country needed to overcome “the uncertainties of unsustainable debt,” while creating jobs and reducing inflation.

If Fernandez fails to meet a new repayment schedule, Argentina will have to repay $ 19 billion in 2022 and the same in 2023.

“Difficult” two years in advance

Since the primaries, the government has been in damage-containment mode, last month announcing an agreement with the private sector to freeze the prices of more than 1,500 basic commodities following street protests demanding larger food subsidies.

It has also increased the minimum wage and family allowances.

While Fernandez vowed to focus on the country’s immediate concerns, candidates were already rushing towards the 2023 presidential elections.

“The next two years are going to be difficult,” said Macri, the opposition leader, while assuring voters that his coalition “will act with great responsibility”.

Liliana Marquez, a hospital worker, said she hopes the opposition wins. “I never trusted these Peronist governments,” she said, adding that she supported Macri’s movement “because I can’t find an alternative”.

Government supporters have been forced to keep a low profile during the long pandemic lockdowns. But pro-government unions and social organizations recently announced that they will demonstrate on Wednesday in support of Fernandez, regardless of the election results.

Many eyes were on the province of Buenos Aires, a traditional stronghold of the Peronists, including Fernandez’s party, but where the Juntos de Macri made great strides in September.

(AFP)

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