Argentine Politics Today

By Dr. Ana Margheritis, Politics & International Relations

There have been numerous discussion forums and articles published on Argentina’s performance and prospects in the last few months. Recently I participated in a closed workshop at UCL in which seasoned diplomats urged us -scholars- to tell them when, exactly, the underlying tensions in the Kirchners’ model would produce a terminal crisis. Nobody ventured to mention a date. Most probably, nobody imagined that, a few days later, the 30th anniversary of the return to democratic rule (on December 10, 2013) would be marked by strikes,  riots, 14 people dead, and images of the president celebrating and dancing with her supporters. For those of us who not only came of age with democratization but also have been writing about that transition and related issues, the celebration was sad. It made evident that thirty years have not been enough to move Argentina out of a perverse cycle of crises, let alone transcend a long-standing “reversal of development” process, as Carlos Waisman called it long time ago.

Myopic views and strategies prevail and transform each presidential election into a “re-foundational” opportunity. The legacy of each presidential term is read in terms of structural changes and ideological cleavages. Ironically, this past week’s reality offered a neat analogy. The structure of the 11 meter-high, pompous mausoleum where former president Nestor Kirchner (2003-2007) is buried cracked. Responsibility for architectural problems is attributed to the construction company run by his friend and business partner who now faces charges for money laundering in relation to the presidential family’s embellishment, thus making the cracks in the foundation an allegory for the fate of the regime. The media has unveiled many of these scandals recently. Divisions among Peronist factions became most evident in primary and legislative elections (last August and October, respectively), kicking off a fierce competition to succeed Mrs. Kirchner in 2015 and highlighting civil society’s discontent with persistent problems like insecurity, inflation, bad public services, and corruption.  December OECD statistics on education standard revealed that Argentina has fallen in both the regional and global rankings.

While politicians preached about democracy, neoliberalism, post-neoliberalism, neopopulism, and so on (lately including, once again, “the return of the state”), old and new public issues are not addressed. The Kirchners, in particular, invested highly in symbolic and discursive tools to construct a new narrative. But Argentines worry about concrete problems and have just spent Christmas in a tense atmosphere. Prolonged power shortages in the midst of a heat wave hit several neighborhoods of the capital city, prompting more street protests. The outages are another sign that real change has not come. Who does not remember that power outages have been another recurrent feature of Argentine daily life for several decades, as gas shortages in the winter or urban flooding in Buenos Aires city? Although problems such as these tend to be accepted as part of normal life, state incapacity to deliver public goods is still unacceptable.

Most important, recent developments may be symptoms of deeper transformations that have gone largely unnoticed in the public debate, in part because different ideas (i.e., opposed to the official discourse) are deemed “destabilizing.” The government often invokes memories of a traumatic authoritarian past and the 2001debacle to dismiss criticisms. Thus, opinions about the most recent past (10 years under the Kirchners) have become highly polarized as the confrontational politics that characterizes the Kirchers’ style has tainted all public discourse, intellectual discussions, and social relations alike. On the one hand, scholars seem to find it difficult to provide objective and balanced analyses. More worrisome, there are few attempts to move the conversation beyond a simple list of achievements and shortcomings.

On the other hand, state role and capacities are increasingly compromised. Some old and new issues seem to undermine social cohesion and expectations. Latinobarometer surveys show that social confidence in state institutions has been constantly low over the last twenty years. Structural poverty, marginalization, and economic informality characterize the life of vast sectors of Argentine society, intensifying social polarization in a country where social mobility and relatively good education and health used to be accessible. Social groups’ language and actions during the recent riots showed unusual levels of aggression. Very few voices (notably, the church) have made the connection between social attitudes and state policies, however. Colleagues like Roberto Gargarella ably pointed out that such aggression was a mirror of state abuses and the impunity of political elites; Javier Auyero has extensively documented the links between poverty and violence suggesting that the state may be part of the problem. Many of us have analyzed the impact of instability on policymaking and the tensions among neopopulists’ social agendas, outdated and ineffective notions of state interventionism, and non-democratic politics. A few scholars are now studying a new threat: the links among drug traffickers, politicians, and police forces.

In sum, today’s crisis urges us to go beyond ideology and epic narratives and address the implications of deepening social and institutional decay. History shows that states have played crucial roles in molding development strategies in all regions of the world, but in the successful cases states have generated positive state-society synergies and created the conditions for stable, long-term positive expectations and commitments. The 30th anniversary of democratization in Argentina exhibited state incapacity to guarantee social order and citizens trapped in a perverse cycle of anticipating the next crisis.

Selling Citizenship

By Professor Chris Armstrong, Politics & International Relations

The government of Malta has recently caused controversy by putting citizenship on sale. Maltese nationality is available, no-further-strings-attached, to anyone willing to pay €650,000. And anyone who takes up the offer will then, immediately, also become a citizen of the European Union. This provokes strong reactions in many people. Many of us think citizenship should never be sold, and that even to contemplate doing this is to cheapen the relation between all citizens and their governments. For others, Malta’s move is a perfectly defensible and even pragmatic decision in a globalized world, and all it needs to be make sure of is that the price it gets is a good one.

For political scientists, and political theorists, the case is interesting insofar as it forces us to think hard about what citizenship really means, and what the core of the relationship between governed and governors actually consists in. A financial relationship? A communal bond? A mutual  decision to face the slings and arrows of fortune together? Or should obtaining citizenship be more like choosing health insurance?

A debate is taking place on this very issue at the EUDO Observatory on Citizenship. The noted scholar of citizenship transformations Ayelet Shachar has kicked off the debate by noting reasons we have to fear the sale of citizenship. I’ve contributed too, and the message I’ve tried to get across is a more nuanced one. I’ve attempted to argue two things. First, it is in fact surprisingly hard to argue that selling citizenship is always wrong. Realising this has interesting consequences, presumably, for the way we think about the citizenship-state relationship. Second, although selling citizenship looks like it will often or usually be wrong in practice, the reasons we have to be concerned about it do not really relate to selling citizenship itself. The rather brutal fact of selling citizenship, rather, draws our attention to a whole series of ways in which processes of awarding citizenship in the contemporary world are unfair. Those processes do a great deal, on a daily basis, to perpetuate inequality. Selling citizenship looks like an especially repugnant policy practice, from a moral point of view. But perhaps, when we are thinking about the (im)morality of citizenship attainment, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Naming, Shaming and Political Gaming

By George Emery, Undergraduate Student in Politics & International Relations 

A recent article by David Ignatius in the Washington Post revealed that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had disclosed the identities of a number of Iranians who had been in contact with the Israeli intelligence service Mossad to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MISIRI). This essentially was an act of betrayal of the agents of an ally to its ally’s enemy. In recent years the once-strong relationship between Israel and Turkey has become strained. The most striking indication of this was the 2010 clash between Israeli commandos and members of a flotilla heading to the Gaza Strip which left nine people dead. However even Mossad, no stranger to hostility, was surprised that an ally disclosed its contacts to a state that Israel may engage in direct conflict in the near-future. This case, and others outlined below, is part of a growing trend in International Relations for states to use often illicit and controversial tactics through their intelligence services for political gains. Ignatius calls these multi-dimensional spy wars, wars that are becoming more and more public.

Israel, and more specifically Mossad, is not just a victim of these spy wars. After a number of scientists working on the Iranian nuclear programme were wounded or killed in assassination attempts the blame was very much laid at their door. Five Iranian nuclear scientists and the head of the Iran’s ballistic missile program have been killed since 2007 with Mossad or affiliates of the agency the most widely suspected (and perhaps most plausible) perpetrator. The Iranians have (allegedly) sought revenge by using proxies, most notably the Lebanese political politico-social movement-cum-militant group Hezbollah. In 2012 a bus carrying mainly Israeli tourists was targeted by a suicide bomber in Burgas, Bulgaria. Five Israeli nationals and the Bulgarian bus driver were killed. The perpetrator had links to Hezbollah, which is heavily supported by Iran. A 2012 report by intelligence analysts for the New York Police Department (NYPD) claimed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards or their proxies had been involved in nine plots against Israeli or Jewish targets around the world in 2012 alone.

So-called spy wars don’t always include direct violence. Similar to the case of the Turkish disclosure of Iranians working for Mossad to Iran, elements in the Pakistani administration and political apparatus have been accused of public naming of CIA station chiefs, often in response to US drone attacks. Last month the Pakistani political party Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which is led by former cricket star Imran Khan, published what it said was the name of the CIA’s chief operative in Islamabad demanding that he face murder charges over a drone strike that killed five people. This was not the first time this had occurred. In 2010 the then-station chief left the country after his name was revealed during a legal case involving another drone strike in which civilians were killed. A fictionalised version of this event was included in the film Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Some have blamed Pakistan’s powerful and autonomous Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) for the 2010 disclosure and in doing so breaking the ‘unwritten rule’ of espionage.

All these cases suggest that political gaming through the use of intelligence did not end when the Berlin Wall came down and the USSR collapsed. They are examples of an increasing trend of the spy world moving out of the shadows, albeit very reluctantly and often unintentionally. Mixed with the prominence of Wikileaks and the Edward Snowden files, intelligence-gathering and espionage may be an increasingly stark and visual aspect of politics and international relations.

Polling Observatory #31: No joy from the polls as festive season approaches

This is the thirty-first in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

UK 04-12-13

Both of the largest parties have had something to crow about in November – the Conservatives have trumpeted growing statistical evidence of a recovery as vindication of their economic strategy, while Labour have received a shot in the arm from the surprisingly strong response to their proposals to freeze energy bills, which have pushed the government onto the back foot. Yet our most recent look at the polling evidence suggests that, despite all the shouting from their cheerleaders, neither party has yet received any meaningful boost in support as a result of these developments. Labour’s support has fallen to 37.5%, giving up much of the one point bounce we noted last month. Over the past six months or so commentators have claimed that Labour, among other things, is in crisis, is resurgent, is surging ahead, is slipping back and is melting away. Yet when the poll data is considered in the aggregate, there is almost no movement at all: Labour have been dead steady at around 37% to 38% for more than six months. The last significant shift in its support came in early spring, around the time of Margaret Thatcher’s death, when Labour lost 2 percentage points of support that they have failed to win back since. It is not clear if the Iron Lady’s demise really lead some voters to rethink their view of Labour, but it is as plausible a theory as any of the others floating around in the comment pages, and has the notable advantage of actually fitting the evidence.

What little movement there is in blue support is also in the wrong direction – and our most recent estimates find Conservative support at 30.9%, down 0.9% on last month. Support for the Conservatives among the electorate has moved around more in 2013 compared to Labour, largely because of a strong link with UKIP support – when Nigel Farage’s party has been up in the polls, this has tended to hurt the Conservatives. This pattern continues this month – as the Tories fall by nearly a point, UKIP have rebounded by 0.6% to 11.9%. UKIP tend to do better when immigration is high on the agenda and when Nigel Farage is highly visible in the media. Both have been the case this month, with the proposal of new restrictive immigration reforms and escalating speculation about migration from Bulgaria and Romania following the lifting of restrictions on January 1st. Mr Farage has been a regular presence across the media spectrum, weighing in on both these issues, and his party seems to be benefitting in the polls once more. The European Parliament elections in May next year will likely produce a similar virtuous circle of rising poll ratings and increased media attention.

The main source of speculation regarding the Liberal Democrats continues to be whether their performance come election day will really be as awful as the polling suggests. The party lost nearly two-thirds of its 2010 support in the months after joining the government, and this month provides no respite. As in nearly every month since early 2011, the Lib Dems are treading water just under 10% – we have them at 8.0%, up 0.6% on last month.

None of the political leaders will enter the festive season with many reasons to be cheerful – aside from the knowledge that 2014 begins with everything still to play for.

Robert FordWill Jennings and Mark Pickup