Argentine Primaries Suggest Close Presidential Race

The results of the Argentine primaries held on 9 August point to the possibility of a close race for the Presidency on 25 October requiring a run-off on 22 November.

Daniel Scioli, leader of the pro-Kirchner Peronist ‘Front for Victory’ party, won roughly 38% of the vote ahead of Mauricio Macri, who heads the consortium ‘Cambiemos’ (‘Let’s change’) who polled about 30% of the votes.  Sergio Massa of the anti-Kirchner ‘Renewal Front’ came third with 21% of the votes. To win on 25 October, a candidate must obtain 45% of the votes or 40% with a 10% lead over the nearest rival.

So it will boil down to whether Sci oli can increase his majority or, if not, whether the Opposition can unite behind a single leader and persuade their supporters to vote for political change. This is difficult to predict.  Both Macri and Massa have ruled out a formal alliance and there may be a mood-shift in the interim towards Scioli, who is seen as a smoother, more moderate politician than Cristina de Kirchner.  

Scioli, aged 58, came into Argentine politics in 1997, having established himself in the sporting world and as a successful businessman.  Vice-President and President of the Senate under Nestor Kirchner, he has been Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires since 2007, the largest electoral district in Argentina.  But, in these primaries, his preferred candidate for the Governorship, Anibal Fernandez, did not do as well as expected in the returns for the Province, which is critical for victory at national level.

Macri, aged 56, was elected to Congress (Chamber of Deputies) in 2005, having tried unsuccessfully for Mayor of the City Buenos Aires in 2003.  In 2007, he decisively beat Daniel Filmus, Kirchner’s candidate for the post of Mayor, in the run-off and again in 2011 – and is generally regarded as more favourable to Argentina’s business community than Scioli.  But, whilst his nominee. Rodriguez Larreta, won in Buenos Aires city in these primaries, it was only after a run-off and by a smaller than expected margin.    Macri will need the support of other minority parties to beat the Peronist electoral machine – and much depends on Massa’s willingness to transfer his support in a run-off.

Massa, aged 43, was appointed Director of Argentina’s Social Security Administration in 2001 and organised the political campaign for Kirchner’s ‘Front for Victory’ in the 2005 elections.  He was elected Mayor of Tigre in 2007 but then appointed as the youngest-ever Cabinet Chief in 2008 by Cristina de Kirchner.  He fell out with Cristina and regained the mayorship of Tigre in 2009 and again in 2011 – and set up the anti-Kirchner ‘Renewal Front’ with support from various city Mayors in the Province of Buenos Aires.  A key question will be whether his supporters will be prepared to vote against Scioli in any November run-off.

Scioli is likely to continue the Kirchner dynasty’s hard line on the Falkland Islands.  Macri may be more sophisticated and less confrontational but it would almost certainly be wrong to expect any fundamental change in Argentine policy.