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Spotlight | Argentina’s presidential election who will tango their way into the Casa Rosada?
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Argentina's Presidential Election

Who will tango their way into the Casa Rosada?

Argentines go to the polls on October 25 for what is shaping up to be one of the most important elections in years. Whoever wins—either this month or in a potential November 22 runoff—will end the twelve-year Kirchner era. The next president will have to deal with correcting the economic course, including lowering inflation levels that top 30 percent, bringing the country out of default, as well as strengthening institutions and improving overall governance. Who is most likely to take office on December 10 for the next four years?

The three main candidates include: Daniel Scioli, Buenos Aires Province Governor, from the Front for Victory (FPV); Mauricio Macri, Buenos Aires City Mayor, from the Republican Proposal (PRO); and Sergio Massa, lawyer and dissident Peronist, from the Renewal Front. The Kirchner legacy is most likely to continue if Scioli, currently the leading candidate, wins. Mauricio Macri, runner up in the mandatory, open, and simultaneous primaries in August, is viewed as more market-oriented and insists that he represents immediate change. Finally, Sergio Massa, former cabinet chief for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who has gained some momentum in recent weeks, would also bring about change but to a lesser degree than Macri.

Controversy has pervaded the election process, especially in the northern province of Tucumán, where votes were allegedly stolen in the August primaries in favor of the ruling party’s candidate. After a month of investigations, the Court ruled in favor of President Fernández de Kirchner’s faction, reversing a lower court’s decision that had previously annulled the results. The official candidate, Juan Manzur, was ratified as governor. Events like this have created skepticism about the validity of the electoral process.

The next president will have to deal with correcting the economic course (...)

as well as strengthening institutions and improving overall governance. Who is most likely to take office on December 10?

This month’s spotlight asks: what will be the outcome of Argentina’s presidential elections?

1 Daniel Scioli wins the election on October 25 outright, avoiding a November runoff vote.

This scenario, once considered a long shot, may yet be possible. Election rules make it tough to win in just one round, but Scioli could yet eke out a first-round victory if all the numbers go his way. To win outright in the first round, Scioli must get 45 percent of all votes, or 40 percent with a 10 percent lead over the runner-up. Three major polls—all completed in October—have Scioli between 36–40 percent and Macri and Massa in a 2-4 point statistical dead heat around 25 percent.

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Scioli closure of the election campaign
Closure of the Scioli's election campaign

The election of Scioli, who has been associated with the Kirchners for more than a decade, means limited change, especially in economic policies. His economic platform includes an expansion of Argentina’s industrial sector, a revamped import substitution agenda subsidized by taxes, and a focus on “industrializing rural life.” This mirrors what President Fernández de Kirchner has done during her term—and would be an important endorsement of the Kirchners’ policies by the Argentine electorate.

Despite his obvious ties to the Kirchners, it is hard to determine what this silent, reserved candidate would really do and change. Unfortunately, Scioli backed out from participating in the country’s first-ever presidential debate in early October. Predicting his actions by looking closely at his advisors is also difficult. They range from vice presidential candidate Carlos Zannini one of the Kirchners’ closest advisers and someone who has cautioned that hopes should not be raised of a hedge fund settlement, to Mario Blejer on the economics team, who believes investment and access to international finance institutions are urgently needed to save the country.

Today, Scioli is also relying on support from various stakeholders—both international and national—to legitimize his candidacy. Former President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva has said that electing Scioli would mean boosting ties between Argentina and Brazil, and would be beneficial for MERCOSUR. Scioli’s recent appearance with Uruguayan President José Mujica is also helping his image. Likewise, support from Omar Gutiérrez, governor of Neuquén—Argentina’s oil-rich province—brings the expectation that current nationalistic energy policies in Argentina will be sustained.

Daniel Scioli

Despite his obvious ties to the Kirchners, it is hard to determine what this silent, reserved candidate would really do and change.

2 Mauricio Macri, currently polling in second place, receives enough votes to force Scioli into a November runoff.

Looking only at the results of the August primaries, a runoff between Mauricio Macri and Daniel Scioli is possible. In August, Scioli managed to garner 38 percent of votes against 30 percent for Macri. All polls now show Macri sliding slightly downwards from August’s numbers. The PRO candidate clearly failed to live up to expectations in August and things on the campaign front continue to disappoint.

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Mauricio Macri speaking at Wikimania
Mauricio Macri speaking at Wikimania

To be elected, Macri, who has a smaller base of support than Scioli, will have to convince a large portion of the Argentine middle and lower classes that his pro-market and smaller State policies will not do away with the social welfare programs that benefit almost 20 million Argentines. His main economic proposals include a reduction of state intervention and a quick liberalization of the economy. His overall political strategy is built around two main pillars: the elimination of poverty, social exclusion, and inequality; and a transparent state. Though having recently backed away from some of his more radical positions, Macri is still the candidate of total change. Indeed, he has said that he would immediately eliminate the government’s restriction on the purchase of dollars, known as the cepo.

In this scenario, Massa, who would no longer be in the race, would play a key role with his voters now looking for a new candidate. The question is: does Massa have enough charisma and political capital to sway his followers one way or another? Additionally, in this scenario, what are the chances of a Macri-Massa alliance (which failed previously) forming for the greater good of the country? Few polls show Macri winning a second round head-to-head race against Scioli.

Mauricio Macri

His overall political strategy is built around two main pillars: the elimination of poverty, social exclusion, and inequality; and a transparent state.

3 Sergio Massa builds on recent momentum to finish ahead of Macri, facing Scioli in the second round.

This third scenario, once considered unlikely because of Massa’s alliances with local caudillos, is becoming more plausible according to recent polls. While unlikely to finish second, he would be a far more dangerous threat to Scioli than Macri in a second round. Ipsos and Raul Aragon y Asociados predict that Massa will defeat Scioli if the two candidates face each other in November. The same polls suggest, on the other hand, that if Macri were to face Scioli in November, he would lose.

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Daniel Scioli and Sergio Massa
Daniel Scioli and Sergio Massa

In a Scioli-Massa runoff, voters would have to decide between two candidates who are more similar than a Scioli-Macri contest. Dislike for Scioli by Macri’s supporters is so great that his voters would vote for Massa. “Anything but Scioli” is, to an extent, the mentality of many voters in Argentina.

The election of Massa, often considered the underdog, remains a distant possibility. It is more likely that he’ll receive better than expected support and continue as a national opposition leader. If this longshot candidate comes in second place, most polls show that, with his Peronist background, Massa beats Scioli in the second round.

One of the reasons Massa has been gaining strength lately is his detailed reform plan. He pledges tougher anti-corruption and anti-drug policies, as well as greater transparency in government. He calls himself the “President of security,” and to provide balance, he highlights what he terms his biggest asset: the economic team behind him.

Massa is also a firm believer that dialogue needs to be encouraged across society, and is more socially progressive than either Scioli or Macri. Massa would, for example, legalize abortion, and all candidates are against the legalization of marijuana. He would also consider lifting the ban on the purchase of foreign currency after 100 days in office.

Two of his main advisers are Córdoba Governor José Manuel de la Sota and former Minister of Economy Roberto Lavagna. De la Sota would become cabinet chief if Massa were to be elected.

With the presidential election around the corner—and voting approaching for one-third of the Senate, one-half of the Chamber of Deputies, and governors and local officials in nearly half the provinces—the country is on the cusp of change. Who will lead that change?

Sergio Massa

The election of Massa, often considered the underdog, remains a distant possibility. It is more likely that he’ll receive better than expected support and continue as a national opposition leader.