La directora del Departamento de Ciencia Política y Estudios Internacionales de la Di Tella, Ana María Mustapic, aborda la posibilidad de trasladar las elecciones de mitad de período para que concurran al voto presidencial. "Las elecciones de medio término buscan encontrar el justo equilibrio entre la opinión pública y sus representantes", opina Mustapic
upcoming midterm elections, which have their own overture, the PASO nationwide
primary voting on August 13, constitute a decisive battle for the opposition,
which is seeking to recoup its losses from the presidential elections of 2015.
that the electorate will punish austerity, the opposition is seeking to convert
the vote into a sort of plebiscite on the government.
to this challenge, pro-government sectors—who apparently are not too supe
whether their performance will improve in the short term — are envisaging a
scenario whereby the midterm elections no longer exist, a hypothesis which
would be impossible to turn into reality any time soon without constitutional
to run up this idea up the flagpole was Vice-President, Gabriela Michetti.
The VP —
who is far removed from liberal political thinking — considered that when it
comes to structural change, "(electoral) competition is destructive."
For Michetti (and the government) "the most efficient thing" would be
to change the rules established by the 1853 Constitution "for a
while" and hold congressional voting at the same time as the presidential
vote, every four years. This idea might have been no more than an anecdote if
it had not been endorsed in one way or another by the political scientist
Vicente Palermo (a member of the Consejo
Presidencial Argentina 2030), the PRO deputy Daniel Lipovetsky, his Radical
colleague Mario Barletta, the socialist Alicia Ciciliani and the director of Poliarquía pollsters, Alejandro
Catterberg. Following a 2016 marked by parliamentary negotiation and the
construction of consensus between the government and the opposition, in this
electoral year the ruling coalition has gone for a strategy of greater
confrontation, in order to open up more distance over its rivals and possible
tactical partners in Congress.
new and tougher plan, Michetti's proposal to prolong the famous dark tunnel by
taking away the chances to vote starts looking less far-fetched. In any case,
it's worth dusting over the constitutional text and submitting it to exegesis
in order to be forewarned.
have painstakingly explained that midterm elections can only be eliminated via
constitutional reform (which would require a special majority inconceivable in
today's context), the experts and political scientists consulted for the
purposes of this article refloat the reasons, behind constituent assembly delegates
adopting the criterion of legislative elections every two years.
examined the arguments for and against making this vote concurrent with the
presidential elections, placing their focus on a precedent from recent history,
which few remember but is highly revealing — when a military government amended
the Constitution on its own account, eliminating midterm elections at a stroke
among other changes.
experiment did not end happily. A year after there should have been midterm
elections came the 1976 coup d'état.
every two years?
expert Daniel Sabsay reminds us that our Magna Carta is inspired by the United
States version, although not without some changes.
copied the model of elections every two years for greater control And greater
participation! » 'Every two years the government thus takes society's
temperature in order to see if what it has been doing until then is OK or not.
Our only difference with what was resolved by the Philadelphia Convention
drafting the United States Constitution in 1787 was that the House of Representatives
there was to be wholly renewed every two years. In contrast, we do it by
halves," he said.
other hand, Sabsay explains that the authors of the original text found
simultaneous elections for the different authorities to be inconvenient.
people do not really know what they are voting for and there is a considerable
'coat-tails' effect," he expands, referring to the contagion of results.
In other words, to avoid a capricious, arbitrary or demagogic decision all at
Leiras, professor at the Universidad de San Andrés and researcher at CIPPEC (Centro de Implementación de Políticas Públicas
para la Equidad y el Crecimiento), there were two main motives for deciding
in favour of midterm elections with partial renewal.
is for the elections to permit an evaluation of the government's performance.
Having the possibility of a consultation which is relatively frequent and
institutional (i.e. as opposed to opinion polls) in order to bring governance
closer to the preferences of the electorate," he underlines. "But the
most important motive was to avoid changes of mind in the electorate since
these tend to be drastic and volatile, impacting directly on the make-up of the
That is why
there is only a partial change. It was very common back then to believe that
the electorate could be very easily manipulated so they thought up a mechanism
whereby voters could express themselves, but with a certain filter or
Ana Maria Mustapic, an expert in electoral
systems at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, reinforces the importance of frequency:
"In the first place, (having) elections every two years responds to a
basic principle of any democracy— a periodic consultation for making
legislators accountable." The expert pointed out that when the issue was
raised at the Philadelphia Convention, the option ruled out was annual elections
—i.e. the discarded alternative was to vote more and not less often.
midterm renewal seeks to strike the right balance between public opinion and
its representatives," adds Mustapic.
this point it is necessary to touch upon a peculiarity of the Argentine case.
In the US, the renewal of the House of Representatives is total. Here it is
partial — half the deputies and third of the senators." In the political
scientist's view, partial renewal strikes a certain discord between public
opinion and Congress, precisely because it leaves behind half a House
representing the mood of previous elections.
happen though that the results reveal the presence of a new electoral majority
which is not institutionally equipped to carry out its agenda.
that occurs in a context of political polarisation, it increases the risks of
government inaction," she warns.
Even if the
elimination of midterm elections was not among the core agreements of the 1994
constitutional reform (commonly known as the Olivos Pact), the experts did not
elude that analysis.
weighed up the advantages with some adjustments yet they always preceded this
by stating the prior need for constitutional reform.
In the eyes
of Leiras, the best argument for eliminating midterm elections would be to
allow presidents more legislative support, thus making for more consistency
between his or her government and the accompanying Congress.
not a bad argument. But constitutional designs like to spread power around with
systems of checks and balances. Thus adopting a rule which weakens the
republican control required of the opposition seems somewhat
inconsistent," he warns.
had pointed out that in other countries midterm elections do not exist. That is
true. Many other countries which also used the US constitutional model did not
adopt the rule of renewal every two years. But this national peculiarity should
not necessarily be seen as a deviation from virtue.
true that other countries of the region vote all at once. Brazil, Chile and
Uruguay, just to mention our neighbours", recognises Sabsay. "That is
to say, in a theoretical sense, it is very good to vote every two years.
Although, of course, this complicates governance because consensus is thus
renewed more slowly." "In the last presidential election, Congress
was only partly renewed, which is why (the government) has so few legislators.
In order to reach a majority in both chambers, the president either needs a lot
of time or to win by an absolute majority," he admits.
not obtain that absolute majority in the first round.If the Constitution were,
a wardrobe, it might be said that the norms for presidential election, which
provide for a run-off, are a perfect fit for Macri's government.In contrast,
when facing Congress, that first-round weakness leaves him uncomfortable,
having to adjust to the institutional design of checks and balances.
Mustapic recognises that one argument against elections
every two years is that "coming so close together, they limit the horizons
and timeframes of the political actors and that can affect the quality of
policy." That would be a disadvantage for a government proposing basic
change. But not for one which is only pretending to improve or correct
something which does not work well.
Palazzo, Constitutional Law professor at the UCA Catholic University, the key
lies in partial renewal.
1853 — when our Constitution was drafted — there were' several examples of the
partial renewal of the Chamber of Deputies in other countries But currently
there are none within systems of presidential democracy, save in our country.
Lower House renewal is always integral in presidential democracies," he
sense, he points out that Argentina's system of partial renewal "responds
to a scheme which seeks to drag out change." According to Palazzo, the US
Constitution has found a healthy balance in renewing its. Sehate partially and
it6 House of Representatives integrally.
course, that renewal is every two years, a period which seems too brief,"
view, "the most rational solution would be to renew the Chamber of
be balanced by partial renewal in the Senate." And with what frequency?
"Well, given the convenience of renewing the Chamber of Deputies
integrally, it seems right for the voting to coincide with presidential terms
to make it easier to put their platforms into effect."
also point to the less fortunate reasons put forward for scrapping midterm
idea that you can't have long-term policies if you have elections every two
years is a very poor argument," considers Leiras. "That suggests that
long-term policies must necessarily have bad results in the short term and I
believe that if you have problems in the short term, that's because the
policies are not so good."
In the view
of the CIPPEC expert, "any argument that's suspicious of the electorate's
opinion is not compatible with democracy." In this sense, Michetti's
suggestion strikes him as being "opportunistic and inspired by a fear of
recognises that some of his colleagues share this belief, that when the
electoral cycles are short, those in power think more of electioneering than
we've already tried the long cycles — during dictatorship," he reflects
ironically, "for there to be a democracy the people must be consulted and
it does not seem unreasonable to do this every couple of years."
believes that our current system is not so bad. "Voting every couple of
years ensures greater control. And nor do you necessarily advance more with a
long-term project by voting less. During periods of ultra-presidential democracy,
the presidents had majorities in both houses and that did not guarantee good
governance either," he warns.
changing, reforming and updating enjoy a good press when linked to modernization.
But Mustapic turns to the recent
past to show that Argentina has already experienced democratic governance
without midterm elections. Without much of a happy ending.
1972 Argentine Constitution under which (Juan Domingo) Perón and then (his
widow) Isabelita were to govern had suppressed mid-term elections while
unifying all terms as four years — whether for deputies, senators, presidents
or vice-presidents," she points out with reference to the reform pushed by
the military government of Alejandro Agustín Lanusse. That regime's
"Fundamental Temporary Statute" had introduced many amendments into
the 1853 Constitution without even bothering with a constituent assembly.
illegitimate in origin, many of those changes were later incorporated into the
legal text placed before the Constituent Assembly of 1994, such as a four-year
presidential term with a single reelection, a third ¡senator for the minority
and the Council of Magistrates.
the Santa Fe reform did not adopt simultaneous elections, which remained
forgotten by the wayside, "It is indeed very difficult to speculate,
within the complex context of Argentina in the mid-1970s, what would have
happened if midterm elections had been preserved.
would have opened up other possible strategies for democratic survival,"
reflects Mustapic. "In defense
of that democratic government, I have to say that coming after a military one,
it had no choice but to stick to that legal framework." Sure enough,
during the third Peronist government—bound by the Constitution manipulated by
the military government — there were no midterm elections. And within that
framework the coup burst onto the scene in March, 1976.
Statute had its own shelf life. In the absence of any constituent assembly, the
reform would self-destruct on May 24, 1981, according to its own text.
Obviously in that year nobody was daring to talk about constitutions so that
fleeting reform slid into oblivion.
case, the relevant thing here, again, is that many of the recommendations of
that reform were adopted in 1994—but not the idea of eliminating midterm
elections, which the constituent assembly delegates decided to maintain, as
specified in the original text of 1853.
discuss this now?
to Mustapic, midterm elections
"are a source of renewal which governments often need to confirm or modify
also restrict the continuity of certain policies. "The vast majority of
countries have gone (toward) unifying electoral processes, eliminating midterm
elections or setting a single length of term. Yet that does not mean that the
possibility of promoting structural change is thus ensured. This depends on the
electoral results," she adds.
president may or may not obtain a majority. Perhaps one might think that if the
government lacks a working majority and the time frames are broader—let's say
elections every four years—there might be more incentives for legislative
co-operation since the new horizon would permit confrontation to be postponed
for further down the road," she adds.
case, there is one irrefutable point. No change of this nature can be made
without a constitutional reform which would require a two-thirds majority of
the Legislative Assembly to call. So why make the proposal? To the political
opposition it seems evident that the government is seeking to change the ground
rules when they do not favour them. Leiras is more generous.
are healthy public discussions. Asking whether the rules are in order. Some
arguments are good, others not. Yet this is not a government on the offensive
but in waiting. It has no chance of reforming the Constitution," he
Mustapic is not too clear why something so impossible
is being proposed. This reporter insists. A trial or test? Justifying a
possible defeat in advance? Or trying to chime in with a certain voter fatigue?
question being raised by the vice-president can certainly be seen as a signal
to talk about this issue. In other words, among the alternatives you have
raised, the most reasonable would be the 'trial balloon' — to test the
reactions of public opinion. As a justification it does not seem very credible
and I don't buy the voter fatigue (theory) either, rather a permanent anti-campaign
rhetoric," she responds.
point, the majority of those consulted believe that Argentines like voting
although some voters appear irritated by the proximity of the campaigns.
opinion of Leiras, "the idea of a certain voter fatigue is an assumption
made by people who do not like democracy very much. It's a delicate argument.
Argentina's democratic tradition is young and cost us a lot. Thinking that
people are tired of voting could be dangerous."
Mustapic does not have the impression that people are
fed up with voting often either but "it does seem to me that they could be
tired of the confrontational atmosphere surrounding electoral campaigns."
admits that there are people "trying to get rid of their civic
obligations, they're not keen on participating — it's a contradiction."