On August 5th the city of San Luis, capital of San Luis Province (835km from Buenos Aires) chose its new mayor. The winner was Alicia Lemme, an architect close to the governing family of San Luis since 1983, the Rodriguez Saá. Lemme received 49.9% of the votes. While the main contender, Alfonso Verges, the incumbent and an ally of the Kirchner administration, came second with 42%. Hugo Passarello Luna
Invited by the Municipal Electoral Tribunal I had the opportunity to be to be a neutral observer. San Luis is mostly perceived as a feud of the Rodriguez Saá who have consistently controlled the province since the return of democracy in the early 80s. Adolfo Rodriguez Saá was the governor for 18 years until he was designated President during the 2001 crisis. He is well known for having defaulted on Argentina’s sovereign debt, the largest in history, and for being in power for a mere week (December 23rd to the 30th 2001). The province was then run by Alicia Lemme, the current winner of the municipal election, and since 2003 by Alberto Rodriguez Saá, brother of Adolfo. San Luis has been under the control of the Rodriguez Saá family, except for its capital which has eluded them for the past 10 years.
Therefore, an external observer was a positive contribution to legitimize and assure the electoral process developed as the electoral code establishes.
Alicia Lemme won clearly. This, however, does not mean that the entire electoral process was run smoothly. There were many obstacles in the way, most of them caused by the unwillingness of the contending parties. This article is not enough to enumerate them all, but some of them help to give an idea of how difficult is to run an election when everybody, especially the main actors, distrust from one another.
The first obstacle was the widespread lack of awareness about the electoral process that was present in San Luis. Starting with the top authorities and finishing with the people running each voting table. Deficient familiarity with the electoral code and deficient training made the process all too complex.
For most sanluiseños this was one of the first real elections. Meaning it was a rare situation where they had a real choice between candidates, and the two main ones had a great chance of winning. Very different from their usual elections where Rodriguez Saá and their allies would be the only contenders with any chance of winning. This is the case of the recent election for governor, on August 19th, where the main opposition parties (the UCR, the ARI and Kirchner’s Frente para la Victoria) did not present candidates. Only two small parties did, and the result was an overwhelming victory and the reelection of Alberto Rodriguez Saá (82% of the total votes).
Hence, everything was open to discussion, from the most basic electoral procedures to insignificant items. An example of this was the fact that all the cables connecting the computers used for counting the votes had to be left hanging and visible to anyone, in order to “avoid leaking or interference with the information.” The result was a web of cables across several rooms going through rough and large holes in the walls. Complaints, whims and arguments persisted right till two days before the election, making the process chaotic. There were accusations from some parties that the software used to count the votes was not running even though all political parties had been invited to check it, and most had attended. All these accusations were a pile of objections ready to be used in case the final results were not satisfactory to the accusing party. If things go as expected, these accusations are archived. All sad shortcuts of Latin American politics.
The role of observer was not short of problems either. In a society were everything is politicized it is impossible to be perceived as a neutral actor. For people, somehow and somewhere you are always playing for somebody. Neutrality is an alien concept and conspiracy runs it all.
The fact that the Municipal Electoral Tribunal invited us to observe the election, made the impression that we were bias towards the incumbent major. Nothing far from the truth. The Municipal Electoral Tribunal was the sole authority for this election, therefore no other entity could have invited us. We never receive any kind of political indication from them, we were just allowed to move freely among the voting locations so we could observe without ties. But how can one explain this in a busy electoral day in a place where everybody distrusts from everything?
Even though there had been some physical confrontations in the previous days the election was carried out without any major problem. Alicia Lemme was the clear winner and San Luis’s new major will be closely linked to the provincial government. Now the Rodriguez Saá clan can again claim political control over the entire province.
Hugo Passarello Luna