Since 2011, Argentine elections have features an all-in primary contest in which every candidate competes both in absolute terms against all the other candidates and both for his or her party (or coalition) nomination. No one doubted that each of the three major contenders would win his inter-coalition primary:
- Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires province, ran unchallenged for the nomination of the governing ‘Justicialist’ Frente para la Victoria (FpV, the Front for Victory) of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and the bloc won nearly 38.5% of the vote.
- Mauricio Macri, the more center-right chief of government of the city of Buenos Aires, easily won the nomination of the three-party Cambiemos coalition, with over 24% of the vote nationally.
- Sergio Massa, the one-time frontrunner, former Kirchner cabinet chief, Tigre mayor and leader of the peronista, if not kirchnerista, Frente Renovador (FR, Renewal Front), easily won the nomination of his own coalition, with over 14% of the vote.
Those results, though, overstate Scioli’s strength. While the Kirchner-backed candidate has plenty of reason to be thrilled with the primary vote, Macri was facing two opponents for the Cambiemos nomination and Massa faced an own opponent for his own coalition, ‘United for a New Alternative.’
When you add together the votes for the coalitions, Macri can expect to enter the final campaign sprint with something more like 30% to Scioli’s 38% — with Massa’s coalition winning around 20.5%.
There’s no doubt that Scioli’s success demonstrates a perhaps surprisingly united Argentine left, with reform-minded voters pulling away from Massa and towards Scioli (pictured above). Despite a scandal-plagued year, Fernández de Kirchner’s approval ratings are on the rise and, although inflation and other economic woes still plague Argentina, the economy is generally doing much better than neighboring Brazil or Chile and, in any case, better than in 2013 and 2014. Unlike his opponents, Scioli benefits from a truly national political network, which was clear on Sunday — the FpV won more votes in all but three provinces. As the governor of the country’s most populous province, he currently serves 16.3 million of Argentina’s 41.5 million-strong population. Moreover, Fernández de Kirchner and the current government will be doing everything in its power to bolster Scioli’s chances in the next two months.
Though she cannot herself run for reelection, Fernández de Kirchner’s close ally Aníbal Fernández (currently chief of cabinet) narrowly defeated Julián Domínguez in the hard-fought primary to win the FpV gubernatorial nomination for Buenos Aires province (and to success Scioli). Furthermore, Fernández de Kirchner is believed to have influenced Scioli to appoint as his running mate Carlos Zannini, a Kirchner loyalist and the presidential legal secretary since 2003. The fortunes of Zannini and Fernández mean that Fernández de Kirchner will wield strong influence in any Scioli administration.
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Nevertheless, Scioli’s allies worry that he will be forced into a November 22 runoff against Macri. Scioli’s 38.41% support is a bit short of the 45% he will need on October 25 to win the presidency outright (alternatively, he could win with 40% of the vote so long as he defeats his opponent by at least a 10% margin). The primary results suggest that, barring a massive turn among Massa’s supporters to the ruling party, Macri will get a chance to take on Scioli directly.
Since 1983, the end of a brutal seven-year military junta, no presidential election has advanced to a runoff.
Macri, who founded the Propuesta Republicana (PRO, Republican Proposal) nearly a decade ago prior to his successful run to become Buenos Aires mayor, will also be thrilled that his coalition is within striking distance of Scioli and that he clearly emerged as the chief alternative in October to kirchnerismo.
Macri (pictured above) will need to close ranks quickly with his two inter-coalition rivals, most especially Mendoza senator Ernesto Sanz, the candidate of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR, Radical Civic Union), the most storied party of the Argentine center-right. Among Argentina’s 21 provinces, the UCR actually won more support than the kirchneristas in Mendoza province and, earlier in June, the UCR’s Alfredo Víctor Cornejo ousted the FpV from the governor’s office. Macri will need the enthusiastic support of the radicales if he is to win the presidency.
Though he’s dialed back some of his neoliberal rhetoric — he’s promised not to privatize YPF, the state oil company, or Aerolíneas Argentinas, the state airline — Macri remains the best hope for Argentine conservatives, centrists, the business class and investors alike, many of whom believe Macri will most quickly eliminate currency controls. That gives him some amount of room to push even further to the center or even the center-left in the general election.
Macri remains widely popular in the city of Buenos Aires. Though his long-time chief of cabinet Horacio Rodríguez Larreta narrowly won a July 19 runoff to succeed Macri as Buenos Aires’s head of government, the FpV failed to make the runoff and Massa’s Renewal Front didn’t even survive the primaries.
Massa (pictured above), for his part, demonstrated that there’s still significant demand for a third-way between the radicales and the kirchneristas. His challenge, however, will be to broaden his base of support even while Scioli’s campaign argues for a fully united peronista left and while Macri’s campaign argues that the only path for change is a united opposition.
Young, telegenic and triangulated between the other two frontrunners, Massa could yet prove the ‘Goldilocks’ of the 2015 election, leading a dissident group of peronistas and talking tough on both crime and corruption. As the mayor of a small city, though, he lacks the electoral base of either Scioli or Macri. One bright spot for Massa was the performance of longtime governor of Córdoba province, José Manuel de la Sota, who pulled the Renewal Front to victory there (though it wasn’t enough to win the coalition’s presidential nomination). As with Macri and Mendoza, maximizing support in Córdoba will be crucial to Massa.
In a three-way race where ever vote will matter, it’s worth noting that three additional coalitions/parties achieved the 1.5% threshold to make the October presidential ballot:
- Margarita Stolbizer, who leads the Progresistas and a center-left ‘broad front’ coalition, is a former UCR figure who could steal votes from Macri in the first round.
- Nicolás del Caño, the 35-year-old candidate of the Workers’ Left Front, and a Mendozan, will challenge both Massa and Scioli for hard-left votes.
- Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, perhaps the most surprising candidate of the race, is the candidate of another dissident peronista party, Federal Commitment. Rodríguez Saá, age 68, briefly served as president in the last week of December 2001 after the economic-based riots that forced Fernando De la Rúa to resign.