This post has been updated on December 17, 2015.
What a difference a month can make! During Argentina’s first presidential candidate debate in October, Daniel Scioli, the Peronist government party candidate, appeared to be a shoo-in with voters. A month later at the November debate held at the University of Buenos Aires Law School the tables were completely turned. Mauricio Macri, representing the opposition voice of market friendly change had now become the favorite to win the election. What happened?
The role of the presidential debates—the first in Argentine history (see my previous post on the first debate which talks about this CIPE supported initiative)—is difficult to quantify. What we can see is that Scioli paid a heavy political price for not participating in October’s debate. The other candidates made constant references during the debate to the empty podium that referenced his absence. The press also excoriated Scioli’s last minute decision to not participate.
Mauricio Macri, nuevo presidente de Argentina (Foto EFE)
By Mario Felix Lleonart
Originally published on his blog Cubano Confesante.
I was brought by God’s winds to the epicenter of a democratic battle: the Argentina ballotage (runoff), the second round of an election for the presidency of the Republic between two candidates.
I landed on Sunday, November 15 in Buenos Aires, exactly at the moment of the first presidential debate in the history of Argentina. During an incredibly intense week, for the first time in my forty years I observed the effervescent passion of a nation that today can settle the future of their country through ballot boxes.
Candidates at the October 4 debate, with an empty podium for incumbent Daniel Scioli, who dropped out of the debate. (Photo: AP)
When the lights went down and the countdown to going live on the air began, everyone in the room knew they were witnessing history — the first ever debate among presidential candidates in Argentina.
It was a long, hard negotiation process that brought the candidates to the debate table. The debate was not without its flaws. The biggest of course was the decision of the leading candidate, Daniel Scioli, representing the current governing party (the Front for Victory), to not attend even after participating in all the negotiations leading up to the debate. Still, the room was electric and the audience complied with all the rules they were asked to abide by, including refraining from clapping or cheering for their favorite candidate.
The five candidates who did participate (Mauricio Macri, Sergio Massa, Margaret Stolbizer, Adolfo Rodriguez Saá and Nicolás del Caño) took advantage of the empty lectern representing the missing candidate, faulting him for disrespecting them and the people of Argentina by his failure to show up.
In every country, sound laws are a key foundation of democratic governance and economic development. Crafting such laws, however, is only part of the path to success. The other half is making sure that the laws are properly implemented – which is often more challenging.
When laws and regulations are not properly adopted, such discrepancy creates an implementation gap – the difference between laws on the books and how they function in practice. This gap can have negative consequences for democratic governance and the economic prospects of countries and communities. Failing to fully implement laws undermines the credibility of government officials, fuels corruption, and presents serious challenges for business, which in turn hampers economic growth.
To help better understand why implementation gaps happen and how they can be addressed, CIPE and Global Integrity published Improving Public Governance: Closing the Implementation Gap Between Law and Practice. This guidebook offers starting points for identifying implementation gaps in various laws and regulations, asking why these laws and regulations are not fully adopted or practiced.
Based on the suggestions from the guidebook, the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC) researched whether Argentina’s access to information law is implemented by public entities, particularly by state-owned enterprise. The latest Economic Reform Feature Service article summarizes CIPPEC’s key findings from the research and policy reform suggestions needed to overcome the implementation gap.
Maiko Nakagaki is a Program Officer for Global Programs at CIPE.
Argentina’s state oil company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales, was privatized in 1993 but partially re-nationalized in 2012.
Access to information is an integral part of an open democracy. The UNDP defines access to information as encompassing the core principles of democratic governance: participation, transparency, and accountability. And the promotion and protection of both access to information itself and flows of information that exists between constituents, government, civil society organizations and the private sector are of equal importance. Yet, in many countries around the world, transparency or access to information laws are not properly enforced.
Argentina is a good example of this. The Access to Information Decree 1172/03, obliges “the bodies, entities, enterprise, companies, dependencies and all other entity that work under the jurisdiction of the National Executive Branch” to provide public information. The Decree defines private organizations as those either receiving subsidies or contributions from the national government. This definition is particularly important because the percentage of the national budget devoted to public enterprises in Argentina has been increasing — in 2006 it was 2 percent and it rose up to 8 percent by 2012. But are these state-owned enterprises abiding by Decree 1172/03?
Political debates offer numerous benefits to voters, but they do not occur in many countries around the world, depriving citizens of an important opportunity to hear candidates explain their position on issues relevant to the country’s development.
Within established democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom, the “debate” about the impact of political debates is in no danger of ceasing anytime soon. Debates are often seen as key moments in political campaigns from the local to the national level — a chance for candidates to present their policy proposals directly to voters. Our country’s long history with radio and televised candidate debates has also provided us with a plethora of research on the impact debates have on voter preference. As this journalist resource on the topic demonstrates, nearly every aspect of political debates – particularly Presidential debates – has been researched, dissected, and analyzed in one form or another. Interestingly enough there is even research on the effect high definition television (HDTV) has on voters’ perceptions of candidates.
While research comes to divergent conclusions on how exactly voters are affected, the benefits of debates to democracy are clear. They force candidates to define specific policy platforms; provide voters with access to information they may not otherwise receive; and create another layer of accountability for public officials.
Throughout its 30 year history, CIPE has worked with the private sector and economic think tanks around the world to enhance the debate of public policies before, during, and after important elections. Over the past five years CIPE and its partners in Latin America and the Caribbean have sought to take advantage of increasing access to radio, television, and the Internet to counter the region’s long history of populist politics in which candidates campaigned heavily on their personality and political connections and very little on actual policy platforms.
In Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and Paraguay, CIPE supported programs that raised demand for public policy debate during electoral seasons and, in the case of Colombia and Paraguay, actually organized Presidential debates.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner. Photo: http://www.english.rfi.fr
This weekend’s elections in Argentina produced an overwhelming victory for incumbent President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Not only did she score an historic victory capturing 54% of the popular vote in the first round—winning by the largest margin ever in since democracy was brought back in 1983—she also recaptured control of the National Congress.
The vote presents a real mandate for her leadership in the next four years, especially since she accomplished it without the behind the scenes labors of her late husband, Nestor Kirchner.
The real question is how President Fernández will use this mandate to forge the future for her country. Early indications are that she intends to continue the economic and political course that she and her husband began eight years ago using the popular vote as a stamp of approval for her past policies. Through government stimulated consumer demand, those policies have yielded a 9.5% increase in GDP during the first half of this year.
However, this path is fraught with troublesome signs and if she pursues it could lead to her undoing. Critics point to the following worrisome indicators:
- Government statistics claim that the inflation rate is at 9% but independent analysts place the rate at more than 20% per year. The latter calculation would bring the GDP growth rate down to a more modest 5.9%
- Government spending is increasing on average 34% per year. In August, it rose 43% compared to a year earlier while revenues climbed 34%.
- Capital flight is increasing, with $9.8 billion leaving the country during the first half of the year.
The Kirchners’ economic growth model appears to have won the approval of the Argentine electorate given the margin of President Fernández’ election. However, it is doubtful that voters understand the full implication these policies for the future of the country.
CIPE partner, the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth (CIPPEC) worked throughout the campaign to stimulate substantive political debate by researching and presenting policy positions as part of their Agenda for the President program. Their focus has not only been on national fiscal spending but on education, social welfare and 12 other important policy topics. CIPPEC’s efforts are intended to create a national dialogue on government policies across the board and provide important civil society input into the political process so fundamental to democracy in Argentina.
As President Fernández prepares her government for a second term, it is not too late to engage in such a discussion with civil society groups such as CIPPEC. As in any country, democracy in Argentina would benefit greatly from a better-informed and engaged public that thinks about the future for themselves and their children.