Four out of the five senatorial candidates in the Buenos Aires Province’s midterms were consecutively interviewed in TV channel TN yesterday night. The hosts of the show A Dos Voces intended for it to be a debate, but their efforts proved to be unfruitful after former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner refused to attend, and Cambiemos’ candidate Esteban Bullrich rejected the possibility to debate with the remaining candidates, arguing it “would be pointless.”
The journalists began the show by explaining why there wouldn’t be a debate. Basically, they pinned the blame on the former President: they dedicated 10 minutes to make it clear it was her fault, had the hashtag #CristinaSeBajó (Cristina cancelled would be a loose translation) on the screen and began each interview by asking the candidates why they thought she decided to tank the debate.
Once that was over, they began by interviewing Leftist Workers’ Front (FIT) Néstor Pitrola, the candidate who made it through the primaries with the least amount of votes, and advanced in ascending order: he was followed by Justicialist Party (PJ) candidate Florencio Randazzo, then by 1País’ Sergio Massa and finally Bullrich.
Let’s take a look at what each one of them said.
The FIT’s candidate began by criticizing the former President: “she’s now claiming that she’s against the government’s austerity measures. However, she has showed that she’s part of the Peronist movement that voted 84 austerity laws to the government, from the agreement with the ‘Vulture funds’ to limiting the workers’ access to insurance policies,” Pitrola said. “Her claiming to be a Peronist means that she’s not left-wing,” he added.
Regarding the Macri administration, he said that “it’s taking the country to the abyss,” by “issuing an astronomic amount of debt,” policies that go against the workers interests “which are made clear in next year’s budget bill” and “exempting large corporations from paying taxes.” Moreover, Pitrola held the Macri administration responsible for the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, arguing that it’s the result of a “repressive policy.”
Consulted by his party’s electoral aspirations – it got 3.37 percent of the votes in August’s primaries – Pitrola assured that the FIT is “on the rise” and called all people who voted for other leftist parties who didn’t make the cut to support them. “Those who fight for the forces that didn’t make it have told us that they are voting for us,” he finished.
Randazzo began his interview with a new attempt at breaking the reigning polarization. “Choosing Cambiemos as a way of voting against Cristina is a mistake and vice-versa. We’ve got to vote thinking about the future,” he said.
He went on to criticize the economic policies implemented by the Macri administration, pointing out that “14 percent of next year’s budget will be destined to paying debt interest. That’s four times what it’s spent on health and twice as much than what’s invested in education, science and technology,” he added.
He said that instead, he would “promote economic growth with a smart state, one that can make decisions that lead to growth but do so including” the most vulnerable sectors of society. “Macri and [BA Province Governor María Eugenia] Vidal were chosen to solve, not to deepen. Now there’s more insecurity, a larger [fiscal] deficit, a higher unemployment rate, more debt,” he concluded.
Massa has the same strategy as the aforementioned candidate: present himself as an alternative to the parties that are concentrating more than three quarters of the votes. He started his interview conceding that he didn’t do a good election – he got less than 16 percent of the votes in the Province, compared to the more than 20 percent that he got in 2015’s presidential elections – explaining that “we lacked power to tell people that we can get the country back on track without returning to the past.”
He went on to say that Citizen Unity (the former President’s party) makes a mistake when its representative “call to defeat and destroy the government.” “We have to build the country by beating inflation, insecurity. For that, the opposition must be united,” Massa added. And he continued: “We can’t keep arguing about the past. We’ve got to solve today’s problems. As opposition, we have the obligation to build a serious and sensitive alternative that defends the middle class and the workers.”
Despite getting fewer votes – very few – than the former President, Bullrich is the clear favorite to win the midterms. In his interview, he continued with the same strategy that has proved to be so effective for Cambiemos: criticizing Fernández.
“If she cared about poor people so much, why did she say that we had a lower poverty rate than Germany? When you care about something, you set it as your main goal, like Mauricio [Macri] did. She lied to us all. She stood at the headquarters of an international organization and said that we had a six percent poverty rate,” he said, making reference to her famous statement before the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in 2015.
In another passage of the inverview, Bullrich rejected the claims assuring that the government will implement severe austerity measures after the elections: “It’s a lie, as it was a lie that we would get rid of welfare. That campaign hasn’t worked. The people know, they don’t believe those lies. To keep using them is underestimating them,” he argued.
He finished by praising the way in which Governor Vidal, arguably the most popular politician in the country and the visible face of Cambiemos’ campaign, has been administering the Buenos Aires Province. There has been a transformation. Not only in the way we fight against corruption, which is the heart of the change. It’s also putting an end to impunity. Before, we lived with corruption in the province and did nothing about it.”
It wasn’t particularly shocking that the debate didn’t happen. The four candidates had committed to attend more than two weeks ago, but the former President always made it clear she wouldn’t, her camp arguing that Bullrich only wanted to partake in a debate held by an outlet they consider is friendly to the government.
Instead, she had proposed to hold it in a public university in the Buenos Aires Province. However, there are two factors indicating that, unless there’s a drastic change in the current circumstances, this won’t happen either: on the one hand, her main contender in the elections, Cambiemos’ candidate Esteban Bullrich, said that he wants to do it in the TV channel so the event “reaches more people.” On the other, deans of universities that had shown interest in doing it only sent a letter to the candidates ten days ago saying they intended to organize the debate, but there have not been any developments ever since.