By Pablo Velasco
The presidential elections in Argentina offered little for the working class after years of economic collapse and austerity.
The first round on April 27 was won by Peronist ex-president Menem, whose neo-liberal "economic surgery without anaesthetic" was responsible for Argentina's collapse in 2001. He will now face another Peronist, Kirchner, in a run off on 18 May. The official candidate of the Radical Party, which has been the second-largest party for decades, got just 2.5% - suggesting it is on the brink of dissolution.
The left vote was low, with the United Left getting 337,290 votes (1.75%) and the Workers' Party (PO) getting 143,015 (0.74%). Nor were the results much comfort for those socialists who called for a boycott. Unlike previous elections, when the number of blank or null votes was as high as 25%, this time 2% of the ballots were blank or void. Turnout was 80%.
Most bourgeois observers believe that Kirchner will win the run off. He is the favoured candidate of current president Duhalde, and has the backing of most other candidates from the first round. The Peronist trade union centre, the General Labour Confederation (CGT), is also backing Kirchner in the run off, as is another federation, the CTA. Whether Kirchner or Menem wins, it will mean more of the same austerity for Argentine workers, more misery of unemployment, more of the neo-liberal nightmare.
Most of the Argentine left is rightly calling for spoilt ballot papers in the second round. There is no lesser evil between Menem and Kirchner, between cyanide and hemlock. Neither offer the working class, the unemployed, the 50% officially poor, anything other than more of the same. Both will attack the occupied factories, the unemployed piqueteros movement and the neighbourhood assemblies.
However the elections do pose some questions for the left. There is no national force in Argentina representing the working class, and few signs of rank-and-file collaboration by socialists in these election, the unions or in other campaigns. Much of the left echoes the nationalism of the old Peronists, rather than hammer out an independent working-class perspective.