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Argentina's elections: a guide

Making sense of Argentina's confusing elections.

Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner hugs her husband, candidate for congress Nestor Kirchner, during the closing campaign rally in the Greater Buenos Aires' district of La Matanza, June 25, 2009. (Imagen 233/Handout/Reuters)

BUENOS AIRES — “It's not that we're good; it's that the others are worse.”

These optimistic words, attributed to legendary leader Juan Peron, are as applicable today as ever for many of Argentine's 27 million voters, who will elect a third of their Senate and half of the Chamber of Deputies this weekend. Surveys show that many voters despair of distinguishing between the candidates or even remembering what branch of government is up for election on June 28.

And who can blame them? With a former president now running for the lower house of Congress and this midterm election widely seen as a referendum on the presidency of Cristina Kirchner, the branches of the government are looking pretty gnarled up. Voters have scarcely had time to gather their thoughts since the passage of the president's inscrutable motion to hold the elections four months earlier than originally planned. That was just the first of this harried campaign season's many quirks. But nothing comes as much of a surprise in Argentina's political circus.

The parties

Well, to start with, there are 713 of them. That's right. From Justicialists to Union Federalists to Intransigents, from Communists to Leftist Socialists to Radical Socialists, and pretty much every other variety imaginable.

But in case that wasn't complicated enough, those parties aren't the ones that usually get on the ballot. Party politics in Argentina run on constantly shifting allegiances and estrangements. About 400 of the parties are grouped into almost a hundred coalitions. Even worse, one party may have a left and a right wing, and countless sub-schisms.

Such is the main contest this time around: the race in the province of Buenos Aires, which pits Peronists against Peronists, an old sibling rivalry in Argentina. On one side is the current ruling party, an assemblage of mostly leftist Peronists grouped as the “Justicialist Front for Victory.” On the other is the Union-PRO, a motley crew of right-wing Peronists and business moguls.

To make things even more complicated, there are allegations that this opposition would join the ruling party immediately upon entry into the Congress. Union-PRO leaders deny the smear — not on the grounds that it is absurd, but merely false — and, in an I'm rubber-you're-glue moment, stick it right back onto the other party that started the rumors.

Party alliances crop up so quickly that they require the coinage of new ad hoc names, like “the Front of the Left and the Workers, PTS-MAS-Socialist Left.” And in the personalistic political tradition of Argentina, no one is surprised at the use of the term Kirchnerism for the front of friends of the first family. Which brings us to...