Argentina Presidential Elections go to a Run-Off

The results of the first round of Argentina’s Presidential election on 25 October showed a significant swing against Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s preferred candidate requiring a run-off on Sunday, 22 November.

Daniel Scioli, leader of the pro-Kirchner ‘Front for Victory’ party, won 36.9% of the vote; Mauricio Macri, who heads the ‘Let’s Change’ alliance, won 34.3%; and Sergio Massa 21.3%.  Scioli therefore failed to achieve the 40% of the vote and 10% lead over Macri required for a first round victory; so the elections go to a run-off between the two leading candidates.

The polls had predicted a wider margin of support for Scioli, who had polled over 38% in the August primaries (see news item below) with Macri hovering around the 30% mark.  So there was a decided surge of anti-Kirchner sentiment, illustrated by the result of the election for the Governorship of Buenos Aires Province, where the pro-Macri supporter, Maria Eugenia Vidal, beat the Kirchnerite, Anibal Fernandez, by 5 percentage points – a humiliating defeat in a traditionally Peronist stronghold.  Even in Cristina’s home province of Santa Cruz, her sister-in-law, Alicia Kirchner, only just scraped in.  Overall, Cristina’s Peronist party lost their absolute majority in Congress, losing 17 seats, although they retained control of the Senate.

The third candidate, Sergio Massa, now drops out of the race.  Much will depend on how the 5 million or so voters who supported him will vote in the run-off.  The polls suggest that Macri will overtake Scioli by 4 percentage points but with 8% still undecided.  So it could be a close-run thing.  Massa has so far refused to back one candidate over another, although two of his most prominent supporters (Jose Manuel de la Sota, the Governor of Cordoba Province, and Roberto Lavagna, a former Minister for the Economy) have said that they will not vote for Scioli.  The outcome may depend on whether the negative reaction to Cristina de Kirchner’s failed economic policies and the desire for change continues to increase or whether undecided voters will regard Macri as too pro-business and shift towards the safety of traditional Peronism.  Macri has stressed the need for new economic policies, whereas Scioli has been more cautious.  The election debate between the two on 15 November may prove decisive.

What does it mean for the Falklands?  So far, the issue has not featured strongly at the hustings, since any shift away from Argentina’s sovereignty claim would be electoral suicide.  But there could be a change in tone. Scioli has already indicated that he would replace the current Argentine Ambassador in London, Alicia Castro, with the renowned economist, Mario Blejer, who has served as Director of the Bank of England’s Centre for Central Banking Studies and has strong links with Chatham House (and the IMF and US Federal Reserve).  Blejer, if appointed, would certainly be more measured and less undiplomatic than his predecessor – and Scioli has said that he wants a "fresh and less belligerent tone in the hope of bringing the UK Government to the table.”  Macri, too, has pledged to "turn down the rhetoric” and his foreign policy chief, Fulvio Pompeo, has indicated that Macri would abolish the post of ‘Malvinas’ Secretary’, created by Cristina de Kirchner in 2013 (and currently held by Daniel Filmus) in favour of "broadening” Argentina’s relationship with the UK (though without giving up Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the Falklands).

Whatever the case, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will stand down as President of Argentina on 10 December 2015.