by Marcela Valente
(IPS) BUENOS AIRES --
months after the massive protests in Argentina that toppled two presidents in the space of 10 days, there are no candidates for next month's presidential elections who truly reflect the public's strident calls for change, according to observers here.
The situation echoes the demand "Out with the Lot of Them!" which spontaneously emerged from the protests that shook the crisis-ridden country in December 2001.
Nearly all of the hopefuls who plan to run for office next month have suffered previous defeats at the polls, and their platforms are not aimed at transforming the country's current economic model or the way of doing politics, nor do they differ significantly among themselves, experts say.
But people who have been meeting in neighborhood assemblies or associations of the unemployed since the political and economic collapse say their hopes for renewal are still alive.
The platforms for the April elections include "a few novelties," political scientist Marcos Novaro, a professor at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, told IPS. "They are not just a frozen reflection of the situation prior to the crisis. But we do not see changes pointing in the hoped-for direction."
The demonstrations of 2001 were demanding a more profound overhaul of the system, but "the forces calling for change were weaker than they themselves believed," and no electoral proposal capable of "agglutinating the disgruntled" has emerged, he said.
It was even "an exaggeration to believe that the protests overturned the two governments," which "failed all by themselves and would not have lasted much longer by the time the street mobilizations pushed them over the edge," according to Novaro.
A similar view was voiced by journalist Eduardo Aliverti. "There is an inversely proportionate relationship between the outbreak that occurred in 2001 and the possibility of building an electoral tool in tune with the rage and the sense of being fed up that the people expressed in the streets," he wrote in a column in the Buenos Aires daily Pagina 12.
In Aliverti's view, that phenomenon was the product of a protest movement that "was not accompanied by leadership or by a growth in popular awareness."
Fernando de la Rua, who took office in December 1999, stepped down on Dec. 20, 2001 in the midst of looting of supermarkets and pot-and-pan banging demonstrations in which around 30 people were killed.
Prior to the crisis, his popularity ratings had plunged to below 10 percent, and he had become politically isolated.
Three days after he resigned, Congress appointed a caretaker president, Adolfo Rodriguez Saa of the then-opposition Justicialista (Peronist) Party (PJ), who lasted just three days before a new wave of protests precipitated his resignation.
On Jan. 1, 2002, Congress designated Eduardo Duhalde of the PJ to complete de la Rua's term. While the new interim president survived the economic and social debacle, he was forced to move the elections forward, from December to April 27.
No candidate has yet earned poll ratings of over 20 percent, which Novaro said was a relatively positive phenomenon, because "no one should indulge in false hopes of an easy solution to this crisis. The next government is going to be weak, and will have to face many difficulties," he underlined.
The PJ cancelled its internal elections after months of internecine disputes, and in the end decided to allow three candidates to run for the presidency in its name: the governor of the central-western province of Santa Cruz, Nestor Kirchner, who is backed by Duhalde; former president Carlos Menem (1989-1999); and Rodr’guez Saa.
The three candidates were the front-runners in a survey carried out in late February by the IBOPE polling firm, in which Kirchner had 18.8 percent ratings, Rodr’guez Saa 15.1 percent, and Menem 14.6 percent.
In fourth place was opposition lawmaker Elisa Carrio of the center-left Alternative for a Republic of Equals party, who in 2002 looked like the candidate who was best-placed to capitalise on the social unrest.
However, "a lack of efficient leadership and of a clear strategy curtailed her growth," said Novaro.
Center-right former economy minister Ricardo Lopez Murphy tailed Carrio, with the support of 7.9 percent of respondents in the IBOPE poll. Less than one percent expressed a preference for Leopoldo Moreau, of the Radical Civic Union (UCR), the other traditional party, to which de la Rua belongs.
The UCR nominated Moreau after an internal struggle marked by complaints of fraud.
Developments like the split in the PJ, the plunge of the UCR, and the appearance of new center-left and center-right leaders have not proved sufficient to satisfy the most outspoken members of the movement of neighborhood assemblies, which emerged to channel and organize the protests in the December 2001 crisis.
But they have come even further from satisfying the growing movement of unemployed who stage frequent roadblocks and occupy public buildings to demand jobs and subsidies for the poorest of the poor.
Carmen Gonzalez, who has participated in a neighborhood assembly since December 2001, told IPS that she makes two different analyses of the movement: "We have had success at the level of community action, but on the political level we have no influence to change anything at all."
The assemblies were the engine of the protests that gave the final shove to the de la Rua administration, but they gradually lost momentum and strength as the months went by.
"In our case, the assembly was a success, because there are around 100 of us who meet every Thursday," said Gonzalez. "We occupied a plot of land where we get together, and we have carried forward a number of initiatives to block hikes in utility rates, provide jobs, or help the neediest."
But "we turned into mutual-help associations, with no political weight. That worries us, and we're talking about it," she admitted.
The associations of the unemployed, which mobilize tens of thousands of people, have also failed to articulate a common platform, and many members are calling for voters to stay away from the polls in the coming elections, arguing that all of the candidates represent a continuation of the status quo.
March 13, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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