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Matthei and Massa: A Threat to the South American Left

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Aug 15, 2013, 9:57 am

Two recent electoral developments in the Southern Cone have changed the political climate to favor the democratic opposition in Chile and Argentina, and they could have a positive impact on the rest of South America. The first is the choice of Evelyn Matthei as the sole right-wing candidate for the Chilean presidential elections next November. The second is the triumph of Sergio Massa at the so-called Open, Simultaneous, and Obligatory Primaries in Argentina that positions him at the lead for the legislative elections in October.

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Evelyn Matthei (left) of Chile and Sergio Massa (right) of Argentina.

The announcement of Matthei as the candidate for both Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI) and Renovación Nacional (RN) at the next presidential elections, unilaterally chosen after the previous candidate retired due to depression, represents a strengthening of the Chilean right-wing from its former fractured state.

Yet, as most Chilean analysts forecast, the choice of this strong and valiant woman to oppose the Convergencia Nacional candidate, Michelle Bachelet, does not guarantee a right-wing presidential triumph. The leftist former president Bachelet has high popularity ratings in every poll. However, it does give the right-wing alliance greater political weight and even the possibility of winning the election. A surprise result is possible if the UDI and RN parties work together with the independents even though “we are a David against a Goliath,” as Evelyn Matthei herself affirmed.

Having two women in Chile compete for the presidential office, both daughters of military men — one left-wing and anti-Pinochet, the other right-wing and pro-Pinochet — heightens the political polarization of the country, and could benefit Matthei given the strong pro-Pinochet tendencies still present in Chile.

As to the election of Sergio Massa from the Frente Renovador party in the recent primaries in Argentina — which, in addition to defining the candidates for the 24 Senate seats and 127 lower house seats currently held by a majority from the governing party, also measure the popularity of president Cristina Fernández and the level of support for her management of the executive—it signifies the emergence of a new political phenomenon in the country that “could end the Kirchner hegemony and prolong the uninterrupted Peronista prevalence since 2002,” according to analyst Rogelio Núñez at Infolatam.com. Massa, who was the former cabinet chief for president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, moved to the opposition and won 33.8 percent of the votes from the Buenos Aires constituency, which represents almost 38 per cent of the 11 million voter roll. A member of Kirchner’s party, Martín Insaurralde, won 28.1 per cent of the vote after ballots were counted at 90 per cent of polling stations.

Following this recent triumph, should Massa become the head of anti-kirchnerism, his leadership needs to be ratified in both the legislative elections in October and the presidential elections in 2015 to confirm the maxim that “whoever wins in Buenos Aires wins the presidential elections.” It is a long and arduous road ahead, yet in a political and economic context of crisis that plays to his favor and one in which “Cristinismo” seems to be on its way out despite having won most of the candidates in the primaries.

In any case, these are two developments that are making the left-wing in both countries — and all of South America — cower.

María Teresa Romero María Teresa Romero

Romero is a journalist with a PhD in political science, specializing in international politics. She's a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her at @MT_romero.