Argentina moves closer to new opening in pivotal presidential election

Argentina moves closer to new opening in pivotal presidential election

THE INCLUSION of primaries in Argentina’s presidential election system in 2009 has added new dynamics to the country’s electoral politics. The process of the candidates’ selection and their jockeying for position, which was previously conducted behind closed doors, is now very lively and takes place in the public eye. What has been witnessed thus far during the present cycle seems to point to the end of a political era in Argentina, writes GIS Latin American expert Dr Joseph S. Tulchin.

By now, voting in 11 of the country’s 23 provinces and the federal capital, Buenos Aires, either for governor or for local legislators, has finished. The results offer no definitive indication of what can be expected in either the big primary on August 9, or the final presidential election on October 25. Some general observations, however, are possible and even informative at this point.

Perhaps the most significant result of the early round of elections is that the forces loyal to Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner have lost more than they have won. The opposition is certain to control enough seats in the new Congress to block the president’s efforts to continue her political domination. The tactical coalition that Mrs Kirchner has forged with a big local player to overcome this challenge is strained and not likely to hold.

On the other hand, these early elections have also revealed that Mauricio Macri, leader of the center-right Republican Proposal, and Sergio Massa, leader of the dissident Peronists, have no effective party structure outside their electoral bailiwicks, Buenos Aires City and Tigre. That means that neither of them can be an effective candidate for the presidency without national allies. Mr Massa has entered no alliance so far. Mr Macri has forged a Cambiemos (Let’s Change) alliance with the Radical Party and some small groups, but it is already showing signs of coming apart. If it disintegrates before the August primaries, it would pretty much guarantee that the candidate of the Peronist movement, Daniel Scioli, the Governor of Buenos Aires Province, would win, probably in the first round.

And that brings us to the Front for Victory – an electoral alliance of the followers of Mrs Kirchner and Mr Scioli’s political machine. But this a construction held together by duct tape with both parties in the deal playing separate games. Daniel needs Cristina to get the support of the Peronist mass. Cristina, after half a dozen feints and shifts to get her own candidate into the ballot, has finally decided to go with Daniel. She seems to be assuming that she can dominate her partner and extend her political power beyond December 10 - 2015, when she leaves office.

Most likely, the alliance will not hold. Mr Scioli is, at heart, a moderate, pragmatic politician who believes in the market and wants Argentina back in the fold of the international community. He has no stomach for the anti-US bombast that has been the core of Mrs Kirchner's foreign policy. If elected, he may govern with the half of the Peronists who are not tied to the current president, along with Republican Proposal and the Radical Party. Such a coalition could bring Argentina back to international respectability.

There is a caveat to these predictions: to win votes, the government has resorted to a spending spree, driving the fiscal deficit to new heights and pushing inflation up. The longer-term consequences of such recklessness could be dire for Argentina. At the moment, though, the pertinent question is simple: is there enough money in the bank to buy the votes that Cristina Kirchner needs in order to stay in power behind the scenes?

I don’t think so, but with all that is taking place in Argentina, I cannot swear.

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