Election Resources on the Internet:
National Elections in Argentina
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera
   

Argentina holds legislative elections on Sunday, October 27, 2013. An overview of the Argentinian electoral system is presented here.

Argentina's Ministry of the Interior has live 2013 election results in Spanish. National- and provincial-level results are available here for the following federal elections:

      October 23, 2011       President                      
      October 28, 2007       President                      
      April 27, 2003       President                      

The election statistics presented in this space come from reports and data files issued by the National Electoral Chamber and the National Electoral Directorate of Argentina's Ministry of the Interior.

For more information about the 2013 legislative elections in Argentina, visit Argentina Elections-Elecciones Argentinas.


General Aspects of the Electoral System

As set forth by the 1994 constitution, Argentina has a federal, republican and representative form of government.

Executive power is vested in one citizen, the President of the Argentine Nation, directly elected by universal suffrage for a term of four years. The president and the vice-president, who may be re-elected (although only two terms can be consecutive), are chosen by the runoff voting system. If the candidate formula with the largest number of votes does not attain either at least forty-five percent of the vote in the first round of voting, or at least forty percent of the vote and a ten percent lead over the formula arriving in second place, a second round is held between the two formulas with the largest number of votes, in which the candidates from the formula that obtains a majority of valid votes are deemed elected.

If one of the two formulas with the largest number of votes withdraws from the second round, the remaining formula shall be proclaimed the winner. In the 2003 presidential election, the formula of Carlos Menem and Juan Carlos Romero - which had won the largest number of votes in the first round - decided not to take part in the runoff vote. Therefore, Néstor Kirchner and Daniel Scioli - who had finished in second place - were elected president and vice-president, respectively.

Legislative power is exercised by the National Congress, which consists of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

The Chamber of Deputies is composed of 257 members directly elected for a four-year term of office; nevertheless, half the seats are renewed every two years. Each one of Argentina's twenty-three provinces plus the City of Buenos Aires is an electoral constituency. Chamber seats are distributed among the constituencies in proportion to their population. Parties and electoral alliances submit closed lists of candidates. The lists are closed, so electors may not choose individual candidates in or alter the order of such lists. Electors cast a ballot for a single list. The seats in each constituency are apportioned according to the largest average method of proportional representation (PR), conceived by the Belgian mathematician Victor D'Hondt in 1899. However, in order to participate in the allocation of seats, a list must receive at least three percent of the electoral register in the constituency.

The Senate's 72 members are directly elected for a six-year term of office, but Senate elections are held every two years for one-third of the seats. Each province and the City of Buenos Aires chooses three senators: the party or electoral alliance with the largest number of votes receives two seats, and the party or electoral alliance in second place obtains one seat.

The Political Parties

The unification of Argentina in 1862 marked the beginning of an era of political stability that lasted for nearly seven decades. However, the country did not have a modern electoral system until 1912, when Law 8871 - popularly known as the Sáenz Peña Law - established male universal suffrage by secret and compulsory voting. In the 1916 presidential election - Argentina's first truly free national vote - the Radical Civic Union (UCR), a moderate party supported by the country's middle class, won a decisive victory over the Conservatives, who had been the dominant political force since 1880, sustained by the landholding elite. UCR leader Hipólito Yrigoyen was elected president and held office until 1922, when Radical candidate Marcelo T. de Alvear triumphed in the presidential election held that year. Alvear was president until 1928, when Hipólito Yrigoyen was elected to office once more.

However, Yrigoyen was by then an aging man, and his government proved incapable of dealing effectively with the worldwide economic crisis of 1929, which severely affected Argentina. In 1930, the army, supported by conservative interests, overthrew Yrigoyen's government. Constitutional rule was re-established two years later, and from 1932 to 1943 the conservatives ruled the nation is what is known as the infamous decade or the era of patriotic fraud: according to the conservatives, it was their patriotic duty to engage in election fraud, in order to prevent the Radicals from returning to power and leading the country to ruin. Nonetheless, in 1943 the military overthrew the civilian government, and remained in power for nearly three years. During this period, Colonel Juan Domingo Perón emerged as a prominent political figure, first as secretary of labor and social welfare, and subsequently as minister of war and vice-president.

In 1946, Perón was the presidential candidate of the new Labor Party, and with the backing of the urban working class - whose support he had cultivated by promoting the organization of labor unions, as well as measures favorable to these - he triumphed over an alliance of the traditional parties. Perón, who subsequently transformed the Labor Party into the Peronist Party, was also helped by his dynamic second wife, Eva Duarte de Perón; popularly known as Evita, she became a political figure in her own right. Although his government was characterized by press censorship and the harassment of opposition parties, Perón remained highly popular, and a 1949 constitutional reform paved the way for his re-election in 1951; the reform also confirmed the extension of the right to vote for women. Nevertheless, the military opposed Evita's nomination as Perón's running mate; in any event, by then she was gravely ill with cancer, and would pass away the following year.

Perón was overthrown in a 1955 military coup, after his increasingly authoritarian government clashed with the Roman Catholic Church. The military government that took office sought to re-establish constitutional norms, albeit excluding the Peronist Party, which was dissolved. Nonetheless, repeated attempts to eliminate Peronism from Argentina's political life confronted serious difficulties. In the 1957 constitutional convention election, Perón - who had sought refuge in exile - instructed his followers to cast blank ballots, and these exceeded the total number of votes won by any of the parties taking part in the election. By then, the Radicals had split in two factions - the People's Radical Civic Union (UCRP), headed by Ricardo Balbín, and the Intransigent Radical Civic Union (UCRI), led by Arturo Frondizi - while Conservatives shrank into a small minority, except in a few provinces where they retained a more or less substantial following.

In the 1958 general election, the Peronists supported UCRI presidential nominee Frondizi; he defeated Balbín by a large margin, and subsequently legalized the Peronist Party. However, when the latter won the 1962 mid-term elections, Frondizi was overthrown in a military coup. Although Senate president José María Guido was sworn in as head of state, the military actually ruled the country until 1963, when another general election was held. UCRP candidate Arturo Illia was elected president, defeating Intransigent Radical Oscar Alende and General Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, who had been Argentina's de facto president from 1955 to 1958; the Peronists were excluded from taking part in the election and cast blank ballots. Nevertheless, during Illia's tenure peronism was legalized once more, and the Peronist-oriented Popular Union prevailed over UCRP in the 1965 mid-term elections, while UCRI suffered a marked decline, brought about in large measure by the departure of Arturo Frondizi and his followers, who established the Integration and Development Movement (MID).

Illia remained as president until 1966, when he was deposed by the military because of his government's alleged inability to deal promptly with the country's mounting economic problems. However, the armed forces accomplished very little during the subsequent seven years in which they held power. Starting in 1969, a growing wave of political violence swept over the country, and by 1971 the military government had no choice but to re-establish constitutional democracy. Peronists would be able to participate in the elections - their exclusion from politics had proven to be a failure - but the complicated rules established by the military regime did not allow Perón to run as a presidential candidate. Nonetheless, in late 1972 Perón was able to briefly return to Argentina for the first time in seventeen years.

In the March 1973 general election, the Peronists ran in coalition with several minor parties - among them Frondizi's MID - as the Justicialist Liberation Front (FREJULI), and won a landslide victory with 49.6% of the vote; UCR (previously UCRP) polled only 21.3%. Although the electoral regulations established by the military provided for a runoff vote if no formula won an absolute majority, the Radicals believed it made no sense to hold it in light of the election outcome, and Héctor Cámpora, Perón's personal delegate in Argentina, was elected president in the first round of voting; FREJULI also secured comfortable majorities in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

However, the Peronist Party was deeply split between right- and left-wing factions, and when Cámpora leaned in favor of the Peronist left, he was forced to resign after only seven weeks in office; vice-president Vicente Solano Lima had to step down as well. A special election was held in September 1973, and FREJULI nominated Perón - who had returned to Argentina in June of that year - as its presidential candidate. Perón chose his third wife, María Estela (Isabel) Martínez de Perón, as running mate and the Perón-Perón formula swept the polls with 61.9% of the vote. Once he returned to power, Perón openly sided with right-wing groups both within and without his party. Nevertheless, Perón was already very ill, and in July 1974 he died at the age of seventy-eight; Isabel Perón then became Argentina's (and the world's) first female president.

Unlike Evita, Isabel Perón was a weak woman who lacked the necessary preparation to hold public office, particularly the presidency; as such, her government proved to be an unmitigated disaster. Social welfare minister José López Rega, linked to the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance right-wing death squad, emerged as the government's dominant figure until the president was forced to dismiss him in 1975. Political violence reached unprecedented levels, while inflation shot up, approaching a daily rate of one percent. In 1976 the armed forces deposed Perón's widow, who was placed under house arrest; she would not be set free until 1981. The military junta that took over the reins of the country dissolved Congress and the political parties, banned trade unions, imposed rigid censorship and initiated the darkest episode in Argentina's history: the National Reorganization Process, better known as the "dirty war," which was characterized by countless cases of human right abuses, including the forced disappearance of up to thirty thousand people. However, the junta claimed that Argentina was in a state of civil war, and in fact it managed to suppress guerilla and terrorist activity, albeit with extreme cruelty.

By 1981, the military government faced growing opposition from political parties, trade unions and civil society. However, the ruling junta attempted to postpone the return to a democratic regime, and to that end it played a nationalist card: the Argentine claim over the Falkland Islands, a British dependency known in Spanish as the Islas Malvinas. In 1982 Argentina took the islands by force, but the United Kingdom sent a naval expedition that recovered the disputed territory shortly thereafter. Argentina's humiliating defeat in the conflict completely discredited the nation's armed forces, and accelerated the transition to democracy.

For the October 30, 1983 general elections - Argentina's first democratic vote in ten years - the UCR chose Raúl Alfonsín, a harsh critic of the military junta, as its presidential candidate, while internal divisions in the Justicialist (Peronist) Party delayed the selection of its candidate for nearly two months; finally, the party nominated Ítalo Luder, who had served as interim president of Argentina between September and October 1975. Nonetheless, the divisions among Peronists helped UCR, which promised to democratize Argentina and won the elections by a substantial margin: Alfonsín was elected president, and his party won an absolute majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies. For the first time in history, the Justicialist Party (PJ) lost a national election in which it had participated. Meanwhile, minor parties - among them the Intransigent Party (previously UCRI), MID, the Christian Democratic Party and the Communist Party - fared badly; nevertheless, several provincial parties secured between themselves a substantial number of congressional seats.

Alfonsín's first two years in office were dominated by efforts to bring to justice the military officials responsible for the "dirty war," and UCR easily prevailed over a divided Justicialist Party (PJ) in the 1985 congressional elections. However, the government had difficulties confronting runaway inflation, as well as the enormous foreign debt inherited from the military junta, and in the 1987 mid-term elections PJ outpolled UCR, which lost its majority in the Chamber of Deputies. Two years later, PJ leader and governor of La Rioja province Carlos Menem captured the presidency in the general election, defeating UCR candidate and Córdoba governor Eduardo Angeloz by a decisive margin; the Justicialists also obtained the largest number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Argentina's economic decline accelerated after the election, and outgoing President Alfonsín resigned five months before the conclusion of his mandate. Nonetheless, for the first time since 1928 a democratically elected president replaced another one.

The economic problems persisted until 1991, when Menem appointed Domingo Cavallo as economy minister. Cavallo introduced an economic stability program - the convertibility plan - which established a new currency - the peso - at a fixed rate of parity with the U.S. dollar. In addition, the government privatized numerous state-owned enterprises and implemented a tax reform. As a result, hyperinflation was eliminated and the economy began to grow robustly. In light of the spectacular economic recovery, Menem sought to revise the constitution of 1853 so that he could run for a second presidential term. However, the ruling party - which comfortably won the 1993 mid-term elections - did not have the required two-thirds to amend the constitution, and Menem had to reach an agreement with former President Alfonsín - the Olivos Pact - which paved the way for a constituent convention election, held in April 1994.

In the constituent elections, PJ lost ground with respect to the 1993 elections, but UCR suffered even greater losses. However, both the leftist Broad Front and the ultra-nationalist Movement for Dignity and Independence (Modin) polled strongly, and no party won an absolute majority in the constituent convention. Although the constitution was amended to allow the re-election of the president, the term of office was shortened from six to four years. In addition, the president would be directly elected by the people in two rounds of voting, and the national electoral college was eliminated.

Argentina's economy was adversely affected by the Mexican currency devaluation crisis - the so-called tequila effect - but Menem was re-elected president by a landslide in the 1995 general election, while the Front for a Country in Solidarity (FrePaSo) - the Broad Front's successor - arrived in second place, displacing UCR, which had its worst election result up to that point. PJ also secured an absolute majority in elections to the Chamber of Deputies, in which UCR came in a weak second place, barely ahead of FrePaSo, while Modin faltered.

In 1996, Domingo Cavallo resigned as economy minister, after having denounced instances of corruption in the Menem administration: he explicitly spoke about "mafias" within the government. Although by 1997 the economy was growing strongly once more, the Justicialists lost the mid-term elections held that year to the Alliance for Justice, Work and Education, formed by UCR and FrePaSo at the last minute. As a result, PJ lost its majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

During the last two years of his presidency, Menem sought to circumvent the constitutional limitation of two consecutive mandates, in order to run for re-election once more. However, he was unsuccessful, and PJ selected outgoing Buenos Aires governor Eduardo Duhalde as its presidential candidate for the 1999 general election. Meanwhile, the Alliance had chosen City of Buenos Aires mayor Fernando de la Rúa (UCR) as its presidential nominee. In the elections, de la Rúa achieved a decisive victory over Duhalde and former minister Domingo Cavallo, who ran as candidate of his Action for the Republic (AR) party. Although the Alliance obtained the largest number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the Justicialists retained their Senate majority.

The UCR-FrePaSo Alliance came to power in the middle of a strong recession that got progressively worse during the course of the next two years. Following the resignation of two successive economy ministers, President de la Rúa appointed Domingo Cavallo to his old office. However, government measures failed to improve the economic situation, and the opposition Justicialist Party won the 2001 mid-term elections by a large margin. Shortly thereafter, the accelerating deterioration of the economy triggered a major crisis that sparked violent anti-government riots in Buenos Aires, which in turn forced Cavallo and de la Rúa to resign from office in December 2001. During the last ten days of that year, Argentina had three interim presidents, among them Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, who suspended payment of the country's external debt.

In January 2002, Congress chose Eduardo Duhalde to finish Fernando de la Rúa's presidential term. Duhalde allowed a devaluation of the peso, which lost more than two-thirds of its value, while bank accounts remained frozen until late 2002 under the "corralito" or "little fence," introduced by Domingo Cavallo prior to his resignation to contain a run on the banks and prevent the flight of capital. In the meantime, Argentina's economy suffered an unprecedented peacetime collapse. Unemployment soared, and a majority of the country's population fell below the poverty line. The popularity of politicians fell to its lowest level, but the democratic institutions established in 1983 were able to weather the crisis, and in April 2003 the country returned to the polls to hold an early presidential election.

The Justicialist Party was unable to agree on a single candidate, and as a result three Peronists competed with each other for the presidency: former presidents Menem and Rodríguez Saá, and Santa Cruz governor Néstor Kirchner. UCR fragmented as well, and besides the official party nominee, two radical breakaway groups presented their own candidates: Ricardo López Murphy for the center-right Recreate for Growth, and Elisa Carrió for the center-left Affirmation for an Egalitarian Republic (ARI); the latter party also absorbed part of FrePaSo, which disintegrated after the 2001 crisis, along with AR. In the first round of voting, Menem arrived first, closely followed by Kirchner; López Murphy, Rodríguez Saá and Carrió had respectable results in third, fourth and fifth place, respectively, but the UCR candidate came in a poor sixth place with the party's worst election result in history. A runoff election was to be held between Menem and Kirchner, but opinion polls indicated Kirchner would win the election by an overwhelming margin. As a result, Menem chose to withdraw from the contest and Kirchner was automatically elected president. Meanwhile, in congressional elections held throughout the year, the Justicialists secured majorities in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.

Argentina's economy achieved a remarkable recovery during Kirchner's presidency, and the country restructured its massive external debt. Kirchner's government also repealed amnesty laws that protected military officers accused of human rights violations during the 1976-83 dictatorship (these laws had been passed during the presidencies of Alfonsín and Menem, following unsuccessful military uprisings). In the 2005 congressional elections, Kirchner's Front for Victory scored a decisive victory, and it was anticipated that Kirchner would seek re-election in 2007. However, Kirchner decided not to run for a second term, and the ruling party chose Kirchner's wife, Senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as its presidential candidate. Mrs. Fernández de Kirchner - known simply as Cristina - is a prominent political figure that has held public office for two decades. She prevailed over a weak and fragmented opposition, becoming Argentina's first elected female president.

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Last update: October 27, 2013.