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CLARIN

Argentina's Sham Democracy, Serving Only Political Insiders

Argentina's electoral routine fosters inequality and injustice, enabling opportunists to cash in. It's time for a new approach.

A polling station in Buenos Aires. Just for show?
A polling station in Buenos Aires. Just for show?
Ruben Lo Vuolo

-OpEd-

BUENOS AIRES — The representative democracy we have in Argentina is in reality an electoral ritual organized around a two-headed entity, the governing party and its opposition, whose political projects are actually quite similar. It is a system of ongoing confrontation between groups within the elite.

With honorable exceptions, these groups adopt references or identities vaguely related to political parties, but they will readily split from them and negotiate with old adversaries if necessary. In short, they prefer "power strategies" to forging policy platforms. In practice, most political groupings offer a mechanism to ease their members' social and economic ascent, while practically freezing social mobility for the rest of population.

We shouldn't be surprised then that political news is mostly about business and (economic and ideological) corruption. Our political dynamics have the same motivations as those of business: earning money, controlling institutions, crushing the competition, rewarding good employees, selling accumulated "political capital" to the highest bidder, etc.

The actors, of course, try to hide all this behind a political discourse of baseless platitudes — if not blatant lies — that uses superficial imagery typical of advertising and devoid of significant content. The population, meanwhile, has no reliable information to assess the country's social and economic situation.

In our country, political practices and federal functions display both partiality and generalized disinterest. They have neither a moral dimension nor any meaningful social or economic proposals for the collective good.

They neither build nor feed on trust. Instead, they work to line up a supply of "militants" with a carrot-and-stick system. Rewards in the form of future work or public- and private-sector business, on the one hand, are complemented by use of fear and "attendance" checks as a form of social control.

We shouldn't be surprised if Argentina's most profitable economic activities are tied to the mining of natural resources, market control, accessing insider information, real estate speculation, and clinching privileged deals with state officials. These are activities that make easy money for the opportunists who rise up the social and economic hierarchy without merit.

Our current democracy doesn't meet the ideals of a society based on mass participation, equal opportunity and personal freedom. These seemed to be the promise when democracy was restored in 1982. Today the system is built around the interests of certain groups, which make a profit from speaking of and for "the people." They may say one thing, but their minds are focused on maintaining member interests and media profiles, while carefully filtering outsiders wanting to attend their political festivities.

Many people and groups refuse to lend their services to the ignominious cause. And for that they pay a very high price. They must face the dangers of being marginalized from those in power, and they suffer the constant loss of time and effort to resolve problems that should be solved collectively and fairly among all. The logical result of this situation is inequality that is evident in all social groups and practices.

These problems persist because it seems the elites are comfortable with them and concerned mainly with picking candidates at election time.

Their conduct helps explain why, after so many years, the same social and economic problems continue despite electoral cycles and supposed political changes. For a real change to enduring problems, we need to criticize the system right now, and find alternative proposals about how democracy should function in Argentina.

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