Published on March 20
Updated on April 3
In politics, the existence of opposing positions on general interest issues is common currency. However, there are also policy issues that have the ability to unite parties that otherwise do not converge. Good economic performance or governance, for example, are valid issues, as opposed to abortion or taxes.
The coronavirus pandemic has tested leaderships around the world as each government has adopted different courses of action. The media has devoted almost its entire attention to the decisions and measures implemented –it is practically the only issue on the agenda. There’s no doubt that the way in which political leaders decide and behave during this crisis will impact voters’ perception on management and collaboration capacity versus obstruction of political elites, which could be an assesment criteria by citizens in the future.
Around certain topics voters converge interchangeably no matter what their party identity is. Parties do not take a stand, but it is voters who associate parties more or less with these issues and their ability to achieve the desired outcome. It is possible to think of this context as a key moment in the association of parties to valid issues, such as the ability to weather a crisis, or the figure of the “storm pilot” so recurrent in Argentina.
Argentina’s institutional political context makes it difficult to build consensus: there are nearly 700 nationally and district-recognized political parties, as splitting and forming smaller legislative blocks in Congress is cheap, and cabinets almost never take into account the distribution of forces in consensus-building spaces, such as Congress. This has resulted in a decision-style that is characterized by concentration in a small number of personalities rather than coordination and cooperation between different political forces. The pandemic, however, has challenged this context: it has acted so far as a substance or valuable element to unite parties and individuals that in other circumstances seemed impossible to reconcile.
Coronavirus brings expectations and demands to be met immediately, with no margin for disagreements, strikes and political squabble. There is a risk for officials to take unilateral action and an equal risk for government inaction due to party non-cooperation or obstruction to measures of action.
The battle against the spread of coronavirus throughout the country does not allow parties or leaders to take an individual approach, partly because of the severity of the pandemic, partly because of the severity of the measures needed for containment. But the extension of this pandemic -that knows no geographic borders- is limited, precisely because unifying issues, or issues that validate authority, coexist with matters of political positioning, around which voters organize and group themselves. As the “day after” approaches, or appears to approach, the pressure to differentiate will probably increase, especially around issues related to the distribution of the costs of the crisis: redistributive bidding and the definition of measures that determine winners and losers re–emerge and take precedence.
The pandemic challenges our institutional context, the “grieta”, and the way parties have defined themselves, differentiating themselves from each other at every opportunity. Going forward, the question is whether this is an intermediate time, or whether it will contribute to generate a “new style” in Argentine politics.