Alfonsin Hails ‘a Great Day’ for Democracy
Monday dawned clear and crisp, the kind of glad-to-be-alive spring morning Argentines have known for 40 years as un dia Peronista.
But Monday was not a Peronist day. It belonged, rather, to President Raul Alfonsin who, according to nearly complete official returns Monday, scored a sweeping victory for his Radical Civil Union party over the Peronists in midterm elections Sunday.
“Yesterday was a great day; all parties have reason to be satisfied,” Alfonsin said Monday. “Democracy has triumphed. . . . Once people begin to hear their own voice, it is hard to silence it.”
For the second time in two years, Alfonsin’s center-left Radicals confirmed their ascendancy over the labor-based Peronists, who dominated Argentine politics since those days in the 1940s when Juan Domingo Peron marched from the army into populist legend.
More, the election gave Alfonsin a powerful mandate for his hard-hitting anti-inflation reforms, and leverage against right-wing opponents he says have attempted to destabilize Argentina’s young democracy.
Although Alfonsin himself was not on the ballot, and the last two years have been grueling for Argentina both economically and politically, the Radicals won 43.2% of more than 15 million votes in multi-party races Sunday.
The Peronists finished a distant but respectable second with 34.2%. That figure is misleading, though, since Peronism is bitterly divided between a hard-line old guard and more moderate reformist splinters that offered a confusion of alternative slates Sunday. Overall, the reformers ran much stronger than than hard-liners who hew closest to their general’s memory.
“The democratic system has been strengthened by its own exercise,” said Peronist moderate Italo Luder, who lost the 1983 presidential race to Alfonsin. Now, Luder said, Peronists “must rethink their style” and open their party “to capable and representative new men with good independent public images.”
Sunday’s vote increased by one, to 130, a slender Radical majority in the 254-member lower house of Congress. The Peronists lost seven seats, leaving them with 104 congressmen with loyalties split among feuding factions. Non-Marxists to Alfonsin’s left added three seats, a conservative party gained one and provincial parties divided the rest.
In the election of 6,000 provincial and local officials, the Radicals made marked inroads against both entrenched Peronists and local chiefs in 17 of Argentina’s 22 provinces.
The Peronists and leftist parties had attacked Alfonsin’s across-the-board attempt to conquer an inflation that his early policies stoked to an annual rate of 1,000%.