Primary elections in Argentina have confirmed the rumors. The ruling party, in its conservative strain embodied by the Governor of Buenos Aires Province, Daniel Scioli, can almost taste a final triumph with 38%. The opposition, which looked fragmented, has solidified its leadership but will have a hard time if it has serious intentions of taking the Casa Rosada. The 24% of the businessman and head of the Buenos Aires city government Mauricio Macri and the 14% of the dissident Peronist Sergio Massa place them in the running, but trailing by a significant margin.
The Primary, Open, Simultaneous and Obligatory elections (PASO is the acronym in Spanish for Primarias, Abiertas, Simultáneas y Obligatorias) are really intra-party elections that just define the candidates of each front that will run in the general elections in October. Several readings are possible of these results, which are, in the end, a gigantic national poll held two months ahead of the national elections.
If indeed Macri got 24%, his front Cambiemos (Let’s Change), which had two other candidates (far behind were the indescribable Elisa Carrio and the president of the centenarian radicalismo, Ernesto Sanz), surpassed the 30-point barrier at the national level. For its part, the alliance United for a New Alternative (UNA) represented non-Kirchnerist Peronism with the ex-mayor of Tigre and present congressman Massa and the governor of Córdoba Province Juan Manuel de la Sota. Together they amassed 20.6% of the vote. The Front for Victory (FPV or Frente Para la Victoria), not without a small internal schism, ran one lone candidate in the primary, and so Scioli came away with 38%.
In October 27th’s general elections one can win in two different ways: with more than 45% of the vote, or with more than 40% and a difference of at least 10 points from the next closest candidate. Based on that premise, several conclusions emerge:
- The FPV is close to winning in the first round. More so because in the primaries and the open elections, blank and nullified ballots are counted, which is not the case in the general elections. So, tallying in this way, in the case of an identical election the FPV would surpass the 40% barrier.
- The good showing of UNA blocked a potential polarization between the ruling party and the purer conservatism represented by Macri.
- It is unlikely for Scioli to lose voters between now and October, although neither will it be easy for him to expand. Macri and Massa, however, seem to have the modest objective of not growing, but of maintaining the votes that their fronts had spread among the other candidates.
Who is Daniel Scioli?
Brought over from speedboat racing to politics by the hand of Carlos Menem, he ascended to the Vice-presidency with Néstor Kirchner. Then he jumped ship in the decisive province of Buenos Aires, which has one of every four voters in the country. He was governor there twice, always with a measured, proper tone. Comfortable with clichés—effort, work, faith, and Pope Francis are his preferred themes—and on friendly terms with conservative sectors, he distanced himself, although without breaking, from the Kirchnerist militants.
Evidently, as the sociologist Esteban de Gori states, the Sciolist strategy “that tried to weed out Kirchnerism’s discursive hyper-politicization and to represent the internal voice of a municipal Peronism and that of certain businessmen who beg to moderate and contain the discourse, have brought him good results.”
Scioli, de Gori continues, “presents himself not as a stern leader—he doesn’t have to pursue or judge genocides, he has no martyrs to defend—but as a self-made man who is trying to awaken passions with his own example.” That capacity to bring together those around him outside the ways of Kirchner’s militants, in addition to maintaining an eternally good image in the polls, seem to be his major talents.
Another of the factors in Scioli’s triumph in the PASO, as the sociologist Eduardo Fidanza has written, “had to do with the constant increase over the past 15 months in the indicators of social optimism and judgment of the effectiveness of Government’s management. According to data provided by Polarquía (the consultancy firm that he directs), shortly before the elections 40% of the voters rated the country’s condition as “good.” In turn, 52% disregarded the possibility of a severe economic crisis in the near term, and reported to be only slightly worried or not worried at all about losing their jobs. 51% approved of the Government, and 44% its economic policies. “All these indicators, favorable to the ruling party, had grown steadily since March 2014,” continues Fidanza.
Surveys reveal that the majority of voters think that in the future the bulk of policies should be maintained, while correcting some points, like inflation or the lack of personal safety. But this should be done without touching certain key social themes developed by the Government, such as retirement pensions, social programs, and the nationalization of several strategic companies. That explains why Macri recently did an about-face in his positions and promised, in the main, not to retreat from any Kirchnerist policies which, until just yesterday, he reviled.
In the race to October, the debate within the Government was fierce. In the fight to succeed the Kirchners, Scioli finally benefited from the magic finger of the president herself, who placed at his side Carlos “The Chinaman” Zanini, a hard-core Kirchnerist.
Fidanza underscores, within this scenario, the meek Scioli’s “hyperbolic Christianity”: “in the face of aggressions and offenses, on the part of his own camp and that of others, he did not limit himself to turning the other cheek; impassive, he turned infinite cheeks. Perhaps those who confused this with a lack of dignity are wondering now if this wasn’t a survival technique that put him a stone’s throw from the top prize.”
The FPV won in 20 of the 24 districts extant in Argentina. The only places it did not win were in the most highly populated: Mendoza, Cordoba, the Capital, and the very special San Luis. But in the analysis of the vote, what stands out for its magnitude is the province of Buenos Aires, where 38% of registered inhabitants vote at the national level. There, where Scioli is Governor, it won with 39% of the votes, a whisper more than at the national level. For its part, Cambiemos obtained a notable 29% and UNA, 20.6%.
Nonetheless, facing October, neither Massa nor Macri will have an easy go of it. Both will have to work to retain what their fronts have pulled together via the different candidacies. In turn, it is hoped that overall participation in the election will increase—it was at 74% during a period of extensive storms–, and this would favor the ruling party.
It would not be inaccurate to say that Scioli stands to be the big winner in these elections, both within and outside the FPV. Nor would it be wrong to aver that he still falls some points short of an outright win in October, and the scenario of a second round with an aligned Massa and Macri could be complicated.
Parallel to all this, it remains to be seen in the electoral urns what the new diagram of power will look like as of October, both in Congress and in the provincial governments in play. The ruling party needs to win in October. A second ballot must be avoided, everyone knows that.
That is why the dialogues have already begun between a strengthened Massa, who did better than expected, and Macri, who, if it is clear he is the leader of the purest opposition, knows that he won’t make it to the Casa Rosada alone. In turn, in these two remaining months, Scioli will have to decide if it behooves him to expand his universe of alliances, or not to negotiate and to arrive alone but whole at the moment of truth.
Translated by Jonathan Tittler