Argentina – on the brink of major change?

IMG_58842015 is an electoral year in Argentina: major elections for executive and legislative bodies at federal and state level will take place. This election cycle will culminate with the presidential election in October 2015. After two consecutive mandates president Christina Kirchner, who succeeded to her husband Nestor Kirchner as head of state, is facing increasing criticism for her domestic and international agenda.

IMG_5855Over 400.000 people went out on the streets beginning of this year to protest the so-called “kirchnerismo”. A style of government characterised by nepotism, an aggressive stance towards traditional partners, especially the EU, and expropriation of private property.

Over the past years, traditionally strong and prosperous EU-Argentina relations have encountered several stumbling stones. Trade disputes and the growingly tense political situation in Argentina are provoking increasing tensions. Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner, who has clearly chosen a conflictive discourse towards the EU, is being increasingly criticized both in Argentina and abroad. Also in Argentina tensions are on the rise. After prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s unclarified death, mass protests took place in Buenos Aires and across the country.

However, support for her government and a possible successor IMG_5845still remains relatively high at 20-25% of the population. Thus the question: will there be major change in this election year? “We hope so!”, answer our partners from the election observation network ser fiscal, Claudia García and Claudio Bargach. After attending an audience with the Pope honouring their work in the field of democracy support and election observation, they came to Brussels to discuss the domestic and international political situation in Argentina.

IMG_5862Claudio Bargach, legal coordinator of ser fiscal explained that Argentina is not only suffering from an economic crisis, but is also trapped in a political and institutional crisis. Citizens are increasingly disappointed with politics and public institutions, and thus turn away from politics altogether or in the best case get out on the street to demonstrate. Ser fiscal was born with the aim of offering a more positive and active role for citizens to get involved and actively improve the functioning of state institutions. Created in 2007, ser fiscal aims at filling a big gap in the control of the electoral process and avoid any mistakes or frauds by involving citizens as volunteer election observers and public prosecutors. Citizens are thus more engaged and empowered, while avoiding serious breaches in the democratic process. Following Kennedy’s famous quote, the leitmotiv of ser fiscal is for people to ask themselves what they can do to improve their democracy instead of asking themselves what the state can do for them.

IMG_5866In the 2013 elections, over 40’000 volunteer election observers supervised the electoral process for ser fiscal. But this year, the organisation has calculated that 100’000 election observers will be necessary to cover all elections in all provinces. Fear of violence and fraud drive the volunteers of ser fiscal to further improve their work, but as Claudio Bargach underlines “our work is necessary because the state institutions are failing. However, we hope to one day become obsolete”. In view of the challenges, our partners remain optimistic. They believe that, after 12 years of kirchnerismo, the time for a change has come. People are sick of nepotism, corruption and the lack of an independent justice system. And as we witness time and again, in difficult political situations citizens get organised and through private initiatives such as ser fiscal contribute to gradual change. Let us hope time for change has come in Argentina too.

Julie Cantalou