In Argentina, primary elections are mandatory for everyone

The World
A man stands at a bus stop in front of campaign posters advertising Buenos Aires' province governor and presidential candidate Daniel Scioli, ahead of August 9 party primary elections

A man stands at a bus stop in front of campaign posters advertising Buenos Aires' province governor and presidential candidate Daniel Scioli, ahead of August 9 party primary elections.

REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

Does your party only have one candidate? Too bad, you still have to participate in the Argentine primaries.

Elections have been compulsory in Argentina since 2009. This includes both the general elections in October and the primaries happening this Sunday.

All Argentines are required to vote, and all political parties are required to participate — even though many only present one candidate.

“Even though the law says you should justify your absence if you haven’t voted within 60 days, and if you don’t do that you could get a fine of between 5 and 50 dollars, I’ve never heard of anybody who actually got a fine for not voting either in the primaries or in the actual elections,” says Veronica Smink, a BBC El Mundo journalist who is based in Buenos Aires.

In general, sanctions are uncommon and rarely enforced. “You could be banned from public office for three years, and you could have some trouble with any administrative process that you have to complete. But again, I have personally known of people who have not voted and haven’t gotten in trouble.”

What’s more, the law requiring all political parties to participate is relatively impractical. In fact, it defeats the purpose of primaries, as most parties only present one candidate. “Although the idea of the primaries is for different parties to present different candidates, as happens in the US, actually here in Argentina that doesn’t happen,” Veronica Smink says. “The governing party for instance, since 2009 when the primaries were created, they have actually never presented more than one candidate for the presidency. “

“You would expect all alliances or government parties to present more than one candidate, that’s what usually primaries are about, so this is a little bit rare in Argentina,” Smink says, “There doesn’t have to be a competition.”

Therefore, Argentinie primaries are important for a very different reason than their American counterpart: rather than determining the candidates for the general elections, they provide relatively reliable polling data.