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The elusive space of the centre-left

Conservative turn of Radical party, UNEN coalition leaves centre-left vacancy in 2015

por Federico Poore
Buenos Aires Herald, 25-11-2014

The row over a potential alliance with centre-right leaders like Sergio Massa or Mauricio Macri has sparked bitter infighting among leaders of the non-Peronist UNEN coalition. Last week, firebrand Civic Coalition lawmaker Elisa Carrió left the political grouping and blasted her former colleagues for their lack of ambition after several of the so-called progressives among them took a hard line with the PRO party.

So what’s progressive in UNEN? A reformulation of the Broad Progressive Front that finished second in the 2011 presidential race? What will non-Peronist, centre-left figures hope to achieve if conservative leaders like lawmaker Julio Cobos and Senator Ernesto Sanz retain the leadership of the Radical (UCR) party, and in turn the backbone of the coalition?

In an op-ed published in April, sociologist Maristella Svampa said that “before the trouble of the disputes within the centre-left, (a space which has been) almost completely dominated by Kirchnerism throughout the decade, we have witnessed different and surprising alliances.”

In this context, Svampa said, several centre-left leaders have added a pragmatic twist to their attempts to seduce an electorate disenchanted with Kirchnerism.

“The result was the ‘right-wingization’ of political forces that were, until recently, part of the progressive camp — and a relative revival of the Radical party, whose policies in the provinces have nothing progressive about them.”

According to the author of Exclusive Society: Argentina Under Neoliberalism, the centre-left camp has offered voters some major leaders like Fernando “Pino” Solanas, Margarita Stolbizer and the heads of the Socialist Party. But the country has failed to create “a strong space for progressive politicians willing to go for deep changes.”

Analogías consultancy head Analía del Franco seemed to agree.

“Progressive voters will need to ponder a lot in 2015,” Del Franco told the Herald.

With nine months to go until the primaries, Macri, Massa and Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli (a Kirchnerite ally who began his political career during the neo-conservative administration of Carlos Menem) are leading the polls. The three of them are seen as either conservative liberals or populist Peronists — in any case, more rightist than the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration.

“Progressives are one thing, but non-Peronists are another,” she stressed. “Sanz or Cobos seem to be leading the coalition, but the major progressive figure in UNEN is actually (former Santa Fe governor Hermes) Binner.”

In one piece — or several

This begs the question of whether the coalition will make it to the presidential race at all.

“I find it hard to believe UNEN will reach the 2015 elections in one piece,” sociologist Gerardo Aboy Carlés told the Herald. “The coalition has committed several mistakes.”

What were those errors? “For starters, the Radical party acted as an heterogeneous group without clear leadership. It behaves as a federation of local blocs.”

Then there’s the role played by the Socialist Party, Aboy Carlés said.

“I believe the Socialists should have been more emphatic from the very beginning in their rejection of an alliance with Massa and Macri.”

Carrió and Sanz have voiced their call for a deal with the centre-right party that rules Buenos Aires City so that the coalition can reach a potential runoff, as most polls have UNEN in fourth place. This debate has been dragging on since the alliance was founded earlier this year, but especially since the Civic Coalition leader walked out of a UNEN event in BA City while Solanas delivered a speech strongly dismissing any partnership with “modern right-wing parties.”

So should centre-left leaders quit UNEN as well?

“It’s a possibility,” Del Franco said. “I don’t rule out Binner running by himself, along with other progressive groups like the Libres del Sur party” led by Humberto Tumini and Victoria Donda.

A full-out progressive ticket is not likely to get them to the Pink House in 2015, but it might secure a far from negligible voter base.

If they fail to do so, the sociologist said, chances are that left-wing parties gain some votes at the expense of former progressives.

“I see (Workers’ Party leader Jorge) Altamira and (PTS lawmaker Nicolás) del Caño taking votes if progressives are unwilling to vote for the candidates on offer. But it’s obviously a minor, more sophisticated vote.”

Even the ruling Victory Front (FpV) might benefit from this “progressive failure” as centre-left sectors of Kirchnerism could capture a share of this vote, Del Franco concluded.

Por Federico Poore

Magíster en Economía Urbana (UTDT) con especialización en Datos. Fue editor de Política de la revista Debate y editor de Política y Economía del Buenos Aires Herald. Licenciado en Ciencias de la Comunicación (UBA), escribe sobre temas urbanos en La Nación, Chequeado y elDiarioAR.

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