Politics of Argentina takes place in a framework of a federal presidential representative democratic republic, where the President of Argentina is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
Law 8871 or Sáenz Peña Law of 1912 established universal, secret and obligatory male suffrage. This marked the moment when the middle classes entered government, displacing the landowning elite. Female suffrage was not introduced until 1947, under Perón.
Jorge Rafael Videla's dictatorship, started in 1976, began its fall in 1982 after the defeat in the Falklands war (Guerra de las Malvinas/Guerra del Atlántico Sur), and ended in 1983 with the democratic election of President Raúl Alfonsín of the Radical Civic Union party (UCR). Alfonsín faced important challenges, including a military uprising, and resigned in 1989, six months before the end of his term, but the country was not in clear danger of becoming subject to a dictatorship again. Carlos Menem of the Justicialist Party (Peronist) was the president for six more years and made a pact with Alfonsín in order to achieve a constitutional reform that would allow him to be reelected. Following a neoliberal program, he ruled for four more years, until 1999, and then Fernando de la Rúa of the Alianza, led by the UCR, was elected. This was the first time in decades that an Argentine president properly finished his term and passed on his charge to another democratically elected president.
De la Rúa, however, could not manage the economic crisis and finally resigned on December 21, 2001, amid violent riots. Several short-lived interim presidents came and went, until Congress finally chose Eduardo Duhalde of the Justicialist Party (Peronist) to rule until some sort of social and economic peace could be restored. Duhalde took care of the most critical matters and called for democratic elections, where Néstor Kirchner of the Justicialist Party was chosen (for the first time employing the ballotage system). Kirchner took office on 25 May 2003 and stepped down to allow his wife Cristina to be elected in his place in December 2007.
A grouping of mostly left-leaning parties and former Peronists the Front for a Country in Solidarity (Frente por un País Solidario, or FrePaSo) emerged in the 1990s as a serious political contender to the PJ, especially in the federal capital. In August 1997, the UCR and FrePaSo formed a coalition called the Alliance for Work, Justice and Education (informally la Alianza "the Alliance"). The Alliance succeeded in taking Fernando de la Rúa (UCR) to the presidency, with Carlos Álvarez (FrePaSo) as vice-president; but Álvarez resigned in 2000 after a scandal related to bribes in the Senate (the President's party refused to support or investigate the denunciations), and the Alliance was in practice broken from that moment on.
After this episode, followed by the resignation of Fernando de la Rúa (who had to the flee from the government house in a helicopter), on December 21, 2001, the UCR's reputation was severely damaged, and the party lost many of its supporters. To some people, de la Rúa's flight, coupled with the resignation of Raúl Alfonsín in 1989, confirmed the idea that the Radical party was not fit to rule, though it must be noted that in both cases Peronist activists are believed to have fueled popular discontent and even incited revolts to bring about this result.
Smaller parties occupy various positions on the political spectrum and some are active only in certain provinces. In the years after Perón's first years in office, several provincial parties emerged, often as a vehicle for the continued activities of Peronists, whose party was now banned, or as coalitions of politicians from all sectors wishing to take forward provincial interests. Provincial parties grew in popularity and number after the return of democracy in 1983, and took several of the provincial governor positions. Both these parties and the provincial branches of the UCR and PJ have frequently been dominated by modern caudillos and family dynasties, such as the Sapags of Neuquén and the Rodríguez Saá's of San Luis. This has in turn been a factor in the ongoing factionalism within the two principal parties at national and local levels.
Historically, organized labor (largely tied to the Peronist Party) and the armed forces also have played significant roles in national life. Labor's political power was significantly weakened by free market reforms during the 1990s, as well as the cooptation of labor leaders by the Menem administration. They now seem to be returning to their former position, since the current government focuses on a productive model with local industry as one of the top priorities.
The armed forces are firmly under civilian control. Repudiated by the public after a period of military rule marked by human rights violations, economic decline, and military defeat, the Argentine military today is a downsized, volunteer force focused largely on international peacekeeping. While Menem and de la Rúa simply reduced their funding, Kirchner has effected an "ideological cleansing", removing a large portion of the top ranks and replacing them with younger leaders with an explicit commitment to preserve human rights and submit to the decisions of the civilian government.
In recent times two newer parties have gained weight in the political scene. One of them, ARI, was formed on the initiative of Elisa Carrió, formerly a member of the UCR, and presented itself as a non-compromising front against corruption and for progressive ideas. ARI took the place of the defunct Alliance in the ideological spectrum.
Carrió came close fourth in the last presidential election, after a very austere campaign. She is known as a devout, somewhat mystically oriented Catholic, and frequently criticizes what she sees as pettiness and short-term vision on the part of the current administration, employing an assortment of quotations from social philosophers and even the Bible; however, her influence has diminished lately, as the Kirchner administration harvests a measure of success and centre-left policies, and she becomes more extravagant. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, her party list (led by herself) came second after Mauricio Macri's Commitment to Change party for the Legislature of Buenos Aires. In June 2007, Fabiana Ríos, an ARI's deputy, was elected governor of the Province of Tierra del Fuego, becoming the first governor belonging to this party.
The other party, called Recrear, is also led by a former Radical party member, Ricardo López Murphy, who was briefly a minister of Economy of Fernando de la Rúa. Recrear captured the moderate right-wing spectrum of voters, especially urban voters of the middle and upper classes. López Murphy came third in the 2003 presidential elections, with a platform that emphasized a fight against corruption and for transparency, attempting to appeal to voters who were content with the neo-liberal outlook of the 1990s but would not give their vote to a candidate they viewed as corrupt (Carlos Menem). López Murphy continued to criticize populism and state assistance. He was a candidate for the Senate in the province of Buenos Aires in the 2005 elections, with meagre results. Subsequently Recrear has joined forces with a group of provincial parties and Macri's Commitment to Change to form PRO - Propuesta Republicana, a new centre-right coalition ahead of the 2007 elections. In June 2007, Macri was elected major of the city of Buenos Aires.
President Menem first had to control inflation and stabilize the economy, which he did by adopting a series of radical measures including fixed parity between the Argentine peso and the U.S. dollar. He then engaged in a program to move Argentina's economy towards a liberal model. This plan included the privatization of the previously state-owned telecommunications company, oil conglomerate (YPF), airline (Aerolíneas Argentinas), railroads and utilities. As a result, large foreign direct investment flowed into Argentina for a short time, improving in some isolated cases the infrastructure and quality of service of those companies. His policies culminated in the highest unemployment rates of Argentine history and the doubling of external debt.
In the social arena, Menem pardoned military officers serving sentences for human rights abuses of the Dirty War. To balance the unpopular decision, he also pardoned some of the insurgents convicted of guerrilla attacks in the 1970s. The public scandal after the assassination of the soldier Omar Carrasco forced Menem to end compulsory military conscription.
Menem's administration was regarded by many as corrupt and frivolous. Many members of his administrations have been indicted for profiteering while in office. Despite the large amount of evidence that Menem had personally profited illegally from his administration, he has never been legally convicted. The executive had a visible influence on the decisions of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, and displayed a certain contempt for political minorities. Moreover, it did nothing to reduce political corruption and inefficiency, one of the most important and oldest problems in the Argentine government (Argentina's Corruption Perceptions Index for 1999 was 3 out of 10, ranking 71st in a survey of 99 countries).
Fernando de la Rúa's term was notoriously ineffective on many accounts. Elected with a popular mandate to reinvigorate the economy and crack down on the corruption of the Menem administration, de la Rúa was unable or unwilling to perform these tasks. He continued on the same economic course of Menem, which ultimately led to the 2001 economic crash and de la Rúa's resignation. The FrePaSo ministers of the administration, elected on a wave of hope for social changes, also disappointed with a perceived lack of investment in social schemes.
Eduardo Duhalde's interim term was strongly limited by a highly mobilized society. It was marked by the need to pacify the country and soften the impact of the crisis after the forced devaluation of the local currency, the peso, which had lost three quarters of its value in a matter of months. Duhalde employed a mixture of traditional Peronist politics (in the form of a monetary subsidy for heads of families) and neo-Keynesian economic principles to stabilize the economy and bring peace to the streets.
Néstor Kirchner, who belongs to the moderate center-left wing of Peronism (rooted in the leftist Peronist factions of the 1970s), continued Duhalde's measures (even keeping his Minister of Economy, Roberto Lavagna) and added some heterodox economics. Heavy taxes on exports have served to keep local prices of valuable commodities in check, while collecting huge revenues (especially from oil products and agricultural exports like soybeans). The restrictive monetary policy of the 1990s has become aggressively expansive; the Central Bank has injected large amounts of cash into the economy and bought dollars from the free currency market in order to accumulate reserves. The fiscal policy is also expansive; the government has raised private and public salaries by decree on several occasions, and has encouraged negotiations between the private sector and the labor movements. Inflation has again become a concern. The government has struck price-freezing agreements with certain sectors of the economy (producers of milk, some foods, natural gas, etc.) and put heavy pressure on others. Failure to comply on the part of Argentine beef producers has been met with a punitive suspension of exports, starting March 2006, intended to increase domestic supply (this was then softened to a quota system).
The Legislative Branch is a bicameral Congress, which consists of the Senate (72 seats), presided by the Vice-President, and the Chamber of Deputies (257 seats), currently presided by Eduardo Fellner of the Province of Jujuy). The General Auditing Office of the Nation and the Ombudsman are also part of this branch.
The Judiciary Branch is composed of federal judges and others with different jurisdictions, and a Supreme Court with nine members, appointed by the President with approval of the Senate, who may be deposed by Congress. Two posts are currently vacant.
Argentina participates in the following international organizations: AfDB, ALADI, Australia Group, BCIE, ECLAC, FAO, G-6, G-11, G-15, G-19, G-24, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, LAES, LAIA, Mercosur, MINURSO, MINUSTAH, MIPONUH, MNNA, MTCR, NSG, OAS, OPANAL, OPCW, PCA, RG, UN, UN Security Council (temporary), UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNFCCC, UNFICYP, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIKOM, UNITAR, UNMIBH, UNMIK, UNMOP, UNTAET, UNTSO, UNU, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO, Zangger Committee.