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Why Argentina's Politics Are Surprisingly Stable – Americas Quarterly

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NEUQUÉN, Argentina — The debates and scandals around lockdowns and vaccines happening throughout Latin America have also plagued Argentina, where the pandemic has claimed the lives of over 110,000 people. Meanwhile, the economy is reeling from a 10% drop in GDP in 2020 and inflation and poverty rates over 40% — all as two polarizing ex-presidents vie for influence.

A reader might conclude that Argentina, which will hold midterms elections in November, is thus ripe for an explosion, especially considering how neighboring countries once lauded as stalwarts of stability, like Chile, Peru and Colombia, have fallen into political crises and social unrest. But as campaigns gear up, Argentina’s political system is surprisingly calm.

Once considered a basket case of instability, Argentina today has two stable political coalitions. On one side is the governing Frente de Todos (Everybody’s Front), a populist-leftist alliance representing the Peronist political movement. Its opposition is Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change), a liberal-conservative alliance organized by the Republican Proposal (PRO) party and the older Radical Civil Union (UCR) party — the coalition that elected Mauricio Macri in 2015. These two alliances accounted for 88% of the votes in the last election and continue to look sturdy as mid-terms approach — a surprising scenario in a country prone to crises and breakdowns since transitioning to democracy in 1983.

Indeed, memories are still fresh of the riots and protests that forced two democratically elected presidents to resign, first in 1989 and then in 2001, when Fernando de la Rua’s exit sparked a succession of five presidents appointed by Congress in two weeks.

By 2003, when elections were finally held, the Argentine party system was in shreds. None of the six most-voted presidential candidates received more than 24% of the votes. Carlos Menem, who had finished first, shocked the country when he announced that he would not participate in the runoff election. The first-round runner-up, Néstor Kirchner, was sworn in by default — with only 22% of the vote.

The political shake-up continued as dozens of leading politicians created brand new parties, including former Menem allies protesting the rise of Néstor and his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Ambitious political entrepreneurs crossed over from business to politics and funded their own tailor-made political structures, including Macri. Congress became a patchwork of small political forces. The whole party system seemed irredeemably fragmented, and multiple figures competed for leadership.

Fast-forward twenty years, and Fernández de Kirchner’s Frente de Todos and Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio now dominate the political arena, each showing an unexpected level of resilience. Many expected they would, by now, have fallen apart. In the case of Juntos por el Cambio, the coalition formed in 2015 against the misgivings of some in the UCR with the goal to defeat Peronism. This led Macri to become the first non-Peronist and non-Radical president in over a century. However, Macri’s government ended in disappointment, and after he lost his reelection bid, some believed the older and more institutionalized UCR would leave the coalition and seek to reclaim its role as the sole opposition. This has not happened.

Equally surprising is the fact that the Frente de Todos has stayed in one piece. The coalition was assembled three months before the 2019 elections uniting most of the Peronist fractions that had splintered years earlier. Leaders such as Sergio Massa, Roberto Lavagna and even now President Alberto Fernández himself, who had left mainstream Peronism in dissatisfaction with Fernández de Kirchner’s personalistic style of leadership, came back into the fold after failing to defeat her in the polls or grow their own parties. Analysts thought that the uneasy alliance would crumble under the weight of COVID and the economic downturn, or because of scandals like the recent birthday party for the first lady at the presidential residence that many saw as flouting social distancing. But for now, the Frente de Todos is united heading into November’s election.

Several factors have been key in keeping these coalitions intact. Two are institutional, the first being the fact that Argentina has never allowed independent candidates, and electoral laws and organization incentivize the creation of parties. The second one is a law passed in 2009 that mandates simultaneous primary elections for all parties seeking to compete in national elections and encourages competition within coalitions.

Two other reasons for the coalitions’ strength are less easily defined. The first one is political polarization. Any issue that arises in Argentine politics, from taxes to gender rights to COVID measures, gets subsumed into the Peronist government vs. anti-Peronist opposition dynamic. If one side is for something, the other side is against it, and vice versa. So far, polarization has helped uphold the dual-coalitional nature of Argentina’s political system. The second factor is the role played by Macri and Fernández de Kirchner and Macri in keeping their respective coalitions together.

Since 2007, the dispute between the two leaders has defined Argentine politics. Macri and Fernández de Kirchner’s personalities and ideologies could not be more different, but both ruled their own coalitions with an iron fist, building a strong, deep emotional connection with their core supporters. Each commands the support of a substantial block of voters — but are also rejected by a similar fraction of the voting population. This dynamic has forced them to welcome allies as well as would-be rivals into their coalitions.

For her part, Fernández de Kirchner chose not to run in 2019, and handpicked Alberto Fernández (no relation) to be her coalition’s candidate. While many expected her to challenge Alberto, she has remained on the sidelines so far. The order of candidates on lists for November’s election were quietly negotiated between the two and her one-time critic Massa and approved without much fuss.

Meanwhile, given Macri’s low poll numbers and his coalition partners’ eagerness to move forward to the 2023 presidential election, he appears increasingly willing to pass the baton to would-be successor Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta — after some hesitancy. This would go a long way in further transforming Juntos por el Cambio from a personal brand to an institutionalized coalition.

One should be careful to note, however, that the current state of stability is by no means assured to last. It might very well be that the next two years before the general election are just the calm before the storm. If the economic situation does not improve rapidly for most Argentines, if more scandals emerge, and if deaths from COVID spike dramatically due to the Delta strain, the situation could change, and even deteriorate, rapidly. As it is, both the government and the opposition are taking it one day at a time.

Casullo is a political scientist and professor at the National University of Río Negro. She is the author of Por Qué Funciona El Populismo? (Why Does Populism Work?).

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.

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The far right’s new focus on local politics, briefly explained – Vox.com

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On Saturday, a rally by supporters of former President Donald Trump came and went peacefully, with a heavy police and media presence and only a handful of arrests. Before the event, officials in DC were focused on preventing a repeat of January 6 — but more than eight months after the insurrection, far-right groups have shifted their focus to more local causes that could nonetheless have a major impact on national politics.

According to Jared Holt, who researches domestic extremism for the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, right-wing extremists like those who stormed the Capitol building were “scared shitless” of creating another event like January 6 on Saturday — to the point that several conservative leaders, including Trump, warned their followers to stay away from the rally, claiming it was a trap.

Ultimately, only about 100 people showed up, according to an estimate by the Washingtonian’s Andrew Beaujon — far fewer than some pre-rally predictions — and the protesters were at times outnumbered by members of the media.

But anemic participation at Saturday’s event doesn’t reflect fading right-wing enthusiasm for Trump’s election lies — his supporters are just changing tactics, pushing to elect like-minded politicians and change state legislation to fit a false narrative of election fraud.

“Many are instead … applying that political energy into local and regional scenes,” Holt told Vox’s Aaron Rupar last week.

Specifically, that energy has manifested itself in a far-right push to intimidate current state and local election officials, many of whom played a major role in pushing back on Trump’s election fraud conspiracies in 2020, and to install a new wave of pro-Trump election officials.

It’s a tactic that could have major implications for future US elections, and one that extremism experts have been raising the alarm about.

“Going local, [far-right movement figures] suggest to each other, might also help solidify power and influence their movements gained during the Trump years,” Holt wrote in his Substack newsletter last week. “After all, few people are truly engaged in local politics. That’s a lot of influence up for grabs to a dedicated movement.”

The local impact of Trump’s election lie has been most visible in some of the battleground states that swung to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, for example, election officials from both parties have been deluged with harassment from Trump supporters, including explicit death threats. And it’s not a small-scale problem: Reuters has identified hundreds of similar threats all across the US, though the victims have found little recourse with law enforcement.

The harassment has been so severe that about a third of all election workers now feel unsafe in their jobs, according to a poll conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group for the Brennan Center for Justice earlier this year.

And as the New York Times reported on Saturday, there’s now a legal defense committee, the Election Official Legal Defense Network, specifically to support election officials facing harassment and intimidation.

In many of the same states where officials have faced relentless harassment, far-right figures are also looking to put them out of a job. In Georgia, for example, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who repeatedly defied Trump to confirm that Biden won both Georgia’s electoral votes and the 2020 election, will face a Trump-endorsed primary challenger, Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA).

According to Politico, Hice voted against certifying the 2020 electoral college results in January, and he has continued to promote voter fraud lies since then. Just after Hice announced his bid in March, Trump issued a statement lauding Hice as “one of our most outstanding congressmen.”

“Unlike the current Georgia Secretary of State, Jody leads out front with integrity,” Trump said in the statement. “Jody will stop the Fraud and get honesty into our Elections!”

Hice isn’t the only secretary of state candidate to have embraced Trump’s election fraud rhetoric, either. Candidates like Mark Finchem in Arizona and Kristina Karamo in Michigan, both of whom have been endorsed by Trump, could have substantial oversight of how elections in those states are run if they win office, though actual vote counting is done by counties and municipalities.

Finchem has parroted the claims of voter fraud and endorsed a spurious “audit” of the vote count in Arizona’s Maricopa County, the AP reports. Finchem, a current state representative, also admitted that he was at the Capitol on January 6, but claims to have stayed 500 yards away and that he didn’t know about the attack until later.

Like Finchem, Karamo has also endorsed false election fraud claims: According to the Detroit News, she pushed voter fraud claims during the 2020 election, telling Michigan state senators that she witnessed two cases of election workers misinterpreting ballots to the advantage of Democrats, and she appeared alongside MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell at a June rally, spreading further unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

As Politico pointed out earlier this year, the actual power of secretaries of state varies by state, and is often more “ministerial” than anything — but the danger of pro-Trump election officials having a high-profile platform to espouse election conspiracies is very real.

“There’s a symbolic risk, and then there’s … functional risk,” former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican, told Politico in May. “Any secretary of state who is a chief elections official is going to have a megaphone and a media platform during the election. A lot of the power is the perception of power, or that megaphone.”

Candidates like Hice, Finchem, and Karamo all still have to win primaries and general elections — by no means a sure thing — if they want to become the top election officials in their states. But even without election conspiracists in secretary of states’ offices, some states, like Arizona and Pennsylvania, have already started chipping away at the framework of their states’ election laws.

On Wednesday, the GOP-held Pennsylvania legislature’s Intergovernmental Operations Committee took another step toward a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election results like the one currently ongoing in Arizona when it voted to issue a subpoena for voter information — including information that’s typically not public, like the last four digits of voters’ Social Security Numbers.

And in Arizona, where a bizarre “audit” of the 2020 election has already been shambling along for months, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has also taken steps to limit the power of the Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state, Katie Hobbs. In June, Ducey signed a law stripping Hobbs of her power to defend the results of an election in court.

“This is a petty, partisan power grab that is absolutely retaliation towards my office,” Hobbs, who is running for governor, told NPR.

“It’s clear by the fact that it ends when my term ends,” she said. “It is at best legally questionable, but at worst, likely unconstitutional.”

Democrats, though, are making some attempts to push back against the right’s attempts to subvert future elections. In August, the House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would help restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) recently introduced her own voting rights bill, the Freedom to Vote Act, which is aimed at preventing the very election subversions the Republicans are trying to enact in multiple key states.

That bill, however — like the Democrats’ previous voting rights legislation, the For the People Act — has essentially no chance of becoming law under current Senate rules, since the filibuster means it would require at least 10 Republican votes to pass.

Senate Democrats could end the filibuster, or create a carve-out for voting rights legislation, using their simple 50-vote majority, but that path also appears unlikely thanks to continued opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

And with efforts like these tied up in a deeply polarized Congress, Trump supporters peddling election fraud conspiracies can continue to make inroads in local races and legislation.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been at a point that’s been quite this tenuous for the democracy,” Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey and co-chair of the States United Democracy Center, told CNN last week. “I think it’s a huge danger because it’s the first time that I’ve seen it being undermined — our democracy being undermined from within.”

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Politics Professor Emeritus leads prestigious four-part lecture series – University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

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When Brantly Womack, Professor Emeritus of Politics at the University of Virginia and Senior Faculty Fellow at the Miller Center, retired from his professorship at the University last May, there was a noticeable loss in the Politics department’s coverage of contemporary China and Chinese politics. No classes on Chinese politics are being offered this semester, and the Politics department has not yet instated a replacement for Womack as the department’s China expert. This was a catalyst for Womack’s decision to host a four-part lecture series entitled “China and the Recentering of East Asia” through the University’s own East Asia Center, beginning Thursday and with three more planned through Oct. 7.

“This is my little effort to continue presenting something available to students about the big picture on China and Asia,” Womack said.

Womack’s speaker series has been set to run for four consecutive weekly lectures, covering a chronological scope of China’s history and positioning in the changing regional and global socio-political landscape. Each session will feature Womack’s own knowledge, an assortment of attendee questions organized by a chosen moderator and significant collaboration with a renowned Chinese expert. 

“I could combine the presentation, not only with a webinar, but also top Asia experts to comment on the history of Asia or comment on my ideas on the history of Asia,” Womack said. “That adds a tremendous amount to the depth and to the richness of the ideas available.”

The first session of the series took place Thursday night and was moderated by Ambassador Stephen Mull, the University’s current vice provost for global affairs. To kick off his discussion on the topic of “China’s Premodern Centricity,” Womack welcomed Wang Gungwu, a professor at National University of Singapore and renowned Chinese historian, as his first guest collaborator. 

In addition to Zoom, the event welcomed both in-person attendance and a livestreamed service on YouTube for those who did not register on time. 300 people alone were registered on Zoom, and this significant online turnout was complemented by the estimated 40 to 50 in-person student and faculty attendees who gathered in Nau Hall’s large lecture space. All attendees were masked in accordance with the University’s COVID-19 policy, and everyone sat fairly distanced from each other. 

East Asia Center Director Dorothy Wong welcomed all of the event’s in-person and virtual attendees at 8:30 p.m. Thursday before passing the microphone to Mull. After a brief recognition of all of Womack’s accomplishments, Mull invited the series’ host to take the stage, and the main presentation began.

Womack’s first presentation emphasized three different kinds of continuities throughout Chinese history — situational factors, asymmetric perspectives and relational interactions. The now-retired professor expanded upon each continuity with carefully articulated detail before inviting his guest Gungwu  to elaborate, emphasize and challenge his presentation.

“It was a really insightful discussion,” said first-year College student Juan Arratia. “There were a whole bunch of interesting perspectives… My favorite moment would probably be when [Wang] modified a bit of what the Professor said and added a new spin to it, I liked that a lot.”

This interest certainly didn’t end with Arratia — professors and students alike sat attentively in the crowd at Nau Hall.

Attendees took notes, listened and engaged with the professor’s intellectual and humorous insights. Although reasons for attendance varied, there seemed to be a unanimous interest in the chosen subjects being discussed. 

“I heard about the event through my engagements class,” first-year College student Reese Whittaker said. “I would really like to attend the other parts of the lecture series … I think it’s important to know history everywhere in the world [because] I’m a firm believer that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Brian Murphy, the East Asia Center’s administrative coordinator, furthered Whittaker’s take on the importance of understanding history from a more broad perspective.

“I mean, it’s not the type of thing that really is taught in the curriculum at any level,” Murphy said. “You know you can get a B.A. and have really no idea about the history of the East … It’s kind of amazing that that’s the case, that world history is always so Eurocentric.”

Both Murphy and Whittaker’s responses elucidate the importance of continuing to broaden our understanding of contemporary China despite the topic’s absence from the University’s curriculum this semester. In the wake of the Asian Student Union-led survey report of APIDA students released in February, opportunities like this lecture series hope to continue acting as avenues for awareness and contextualization.

“I think a lot of our students are interested,” Wong said. “I learned that among the U.Va. undergraduate population, 25 percent of students have Asian and Asian American backgrounds. I hope the University pays attention to addressing the needs of the students of Asian and Asian American background.”

In the coming weeks, Womack will return to the podium of Nau 101 and virtually welcome three more internationally esteemed guest speakers from China, Australia and Taiwan.

His selection of speakers is impressive to say the least, and might not have been possible without his ready acceptance of a hybrid format.

“They’re all friends of mine and I’m happy to say that they’re my number one choices and they all agreed immediately to do this,” Womack said. “And even though I think remote teaching has all sorts of problems, remote events — that’s something that Zoom has added a whole new dimension of possibility to that we’d never be able to pay for, let alone actually get the people who are going to be commenting over the next few weeks.”

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Trudeau warns against vote split in tight Canada election

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Brooklin, Ontario (Reuters) -With the Canadian election in a dead heat two days before the Sept. 20 vote, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Conservative rival implored supporters to stay the course and avoid vote splitting that could hand their opponent victory.

Both men campaigned in the same seat-rich Toronto region on Saturday as they tried to fend off voter defections to the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) and the populist People’s Party of Canada (PPC), both of which are rising in polls.

The latest Sondage Leger poll conducted for the Journal de Montreal and the National Post newspapers put the Conservatives one percentage point ahead of Trudeau’s Liberals, with 33% over 32%. The NDP was at 19% while the PPC was at 6%.

Trudeau, 49, called an early election, seeking to convert approval for his government’s handling of the pandemic into a parliamentary majority. But he is now scrambling to save his job, with Canadians questioning the need for an early election amid a fourth pandemic wave.

“Despite what the NDP likes to say, the choice is between a Conservative or a Liberal government right now,” Trudeau said in Aurora, Ontario. “And it does make a difference to Canadians whether we have or not a progressive government.”

Trudeau has spent two of the final three days of his campaign in Ontario where polls show the NDP could gain seats, or split the progressive vote.

A tight race could result in another minority government, with the NDP, led by Jagmeet Singh, playing kingmaker. It has also put a focus on turnout, with low turnout historically favouring the Conservatives.

An Ekos poll released on Saturday also showed the main parties neck and neck though the Liberals had an edge at 30.6% compared to 27.7% for the Conservatives. At these levels, neither party appears likely to reach the 170 seats needed for a majority in the 338-seat House of Commons.

With a Liberal minority the most likely result based on polls, Trudeau was asked if this could be his last election. He responded: “There is lots of work still to do, and I’m nowhere near done yet.”

If voters give Trudeau, who was first elected in 2015, a third term, everything they dislike about him “will only get worse,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole told supporters on Saturday, saying his party was the only option for anyone dissatisfied with the Liberals, in a dig at the PPC.

The PPC, which has channelled anger against mandatory vaccines into surprising support, could draw votes away from the Conservatives in close district races, helping the Liberals eke out a win.

An election that had appeared set to be an easy win for Trudeau, whose Liberals had led comfortably in polls before it was called, has become an unexpected slog due to a lackluster campaign, the reemergence of old scandals, and public anger over its timing.

“I wish it wasn’t happening, to be honest,” said Connie Riordan, a voter in Cambridge, Ontario, who said she had switched to the Conservatives in advance voting from the Liberals.

On Saturday, the Liberals announced they would drop a candidate over a 2019 sexual assault charge that the party said was not disclosed to them. The candidate, a naval reservist running in an open Liberal seat in downtown Toronto, will not be a member of the Liberal caucus, if he is elected, the party said.

Earlier this month, Liberal member of parliament Raj Saini ended his re-election campaign amid allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards female staffers.

O’Toole, 48, campaigned in Saini’s district on Saturday, one of three Liberal ridings he is hoping to swing his way. Earlier, he appeared in a Conservative-held riding west of Toronto that was closely fought during the 2019 election.

The area’s member of Parliament, who is not running again, came under fire last spring for saying COVID-19 lockdowns were the “single greatest breach of our civil liberties since the internment camps during WW2.”

O’Toole, who said he wants to get 90% of Canadians vaccinated, has refused to say who among Conservative Party candidates were.

(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Andrea Ricci)

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