Argentines see woes as chance for renewal
A new TV gameshow is one of many ways Argentina is voicing frustration with its corrupt political class.
Argentines want new leaders. Badly.Skip to next paragraph
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Two measures of the degree of dissatisfaction with the nation's political elite can be found in the success of a cartoon duck and a new television game show.
Turn on the tube Sunday nights at 8 p.m. to catch one of the country's top-rated programs: "The People's Candidate." Sixteen candidates are vying for a chance to win a seat in Argentina's legislature. Viewers call in to pick their favorite, and the winner will get a fully funded campaign in the next election.
The show's success, say political analysts, reflects the depth of discontent with the current crop of familiar candidates for next year's presidential election.
"No single figure has managed to capture the desires and hopes of the nation," explains Nicolás Ducoté, executive director of the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Buenos Aires. He cites recent polls where none of the leading candidates for president reached even 19 percent approval. In the midst of an enduring economic crisis, one of the most popular slogans heard today is "Que se vayan todos [They should all go]."
But the TV show is also emblematic of something else going on in Argentina: renewal. New political parties and NGOs are emerging, led by young people who see Argentina's current difficulties as an opportunity to revitalize the country and close the chapter on a corrupt past. Call them Argentina's new nation-builders - minus the blue helmets.
"For the first time in a long time, Argentina can rethink what it wants to be as a country," says Sergio Berensztein, a political scientist at Torcuato Di Tella University in Buenos Aires. "We thought we were a developed nation, more European than Latin American, but this crisis has exposed that fiction. Now we have the opportunity to recognize our limitations and our virtues.... We have the human capital here - we just need to put it into action."
That action is already under way. "Civil society here is effervescent," says Mr. Ducoté. "Society is demanding a purification of politics, a new kind of leadership. First the demands came through protests, through things like the cacerolazos [pot-banging street demonstrations] and the vote for Clemente last year."
"Clemente" is a wisecracking comic-strip character appearing in the daily newspaper, El Clarín, since the early 1970s. Clemente has no hands, so he can't steal. This incorruptible condition made him an appealing write-in candidate for disaffected citizens during Argentina's 2001 legislative elections, when nearly 4 million citizens cast blank or null votes.
But such forms of dissent are not enough to transform politics, says Mr. Ducoté. "Some intelligent voices eventually began to ask how to transform protests into proposals," he says. "After all, it isn't enough to say what we're against. We have to say what we want."
NGOs - which in Argentina number some 30,000, one-third of which were started in the past two years - are beginning to answer this question. Groups such as the two-year-old CIPPEC and many others are pushing an array of proposals for political and state reform. These proposals include laws guaranteeing free access to public information (akin to the US Freedom of Information Act), the creation of an independent agency that would oversee elections, and protection for whistle-blowers in the public sector who point out misdeeds by their superiors.