Tight Run-off in Argentina, Two Competing National Projects

s_100065_10432_Scioli_Macri_11rThe electoral results from Sunday, October 25, were a shock. The atmosphere and the polls indicated that the only thing left to know was whether the candidate of the Front for Victory (FPV)—Daniel Scioli—would win in the first round or not. But the thermometer was mistaken: the ruling party lost the gubernatorial race in the Province of Buenos Aires (the candidate for Let’s Change [PRO], Maria Eugenia Vidal, won), and the distance between Scioli and Mario Macri was just 3 points. The final results were 37.08% for FPV to 34.15% for PRO. This Sunday, for the first time in Argentine history, almost 32,000,000 people will vote in a run-off for the future president of the country.

As of October 26 a whole new campaign began. There were only two candidates, and the pollsters—who were dead wrong—had lost their credibility. Nonetheless, the media report the opposition candidate to be triumphant and the ruling party to be playing catch-up. Victorious, the Macri team announced future measures: swift devaluation of the peso, settlement with the vulture funds, and a request for Venezuela to be expelled from Mercosur. Scioli denounced his rival, tried to explain the economic shock the Let’s Change candidate’s measures would cause, and presented himself as the man of order, stability, and predictability. What both candidates agreed on, however, was their promises to reduce withholding taxes in the countryside, to modify taxes on profits and to maintain under state control the businesses that have been nationalized under the past twelve years of Kirchnerism.

In the first round Scioli had already announced almost his entire cabinet, comprised mainly of conservative leaning Peronist governors. Macri was more prudent. He announced only some of his men, many of whom were from the private sector: the ex-manager of Monsanto, Leonardo Sarquís, would be the Minister of Agriculture in Buenos Aires Province; the ex-CEO of the British-Dutch company Shell Oil, Juan José Aranguren, would be in charge of energy matters for PRO and probably also of the state oil company Fiscal Oilfields (YPF); and an ex-J.P. Morgan executive—Alfonso Prat Gay—could be a possible future Minister of Finance.

As for the campaign, while Let’s Change won in the media sphere, Kirchnerism won in the streets. The base membership, unorganized, showed their support in a spontaneous fashion. Votes were sought one by one, house by house, block by block, bringing traffic to a standstill. In a context of short-circuits between the Casa Rosada and the candidate’s campaign team, the weekend after the elections thousands of people gathered in a downtown park to say “Love, yes. Macri, no.”

Since then, the campaign has grown exponentially. Scientists from public universities got together and did a symbolic washing of dishes in the street, to emphasize what would be the Macrista policy with regard to science and national development. Neighbors went out and posted labels throughout the vicinity, with whatever message occurred to them.

The movement was called “etiquetazo,” and the slogan was “Take your wall out to the streets.” Actors and cultural representatives got on buses to tell the travelers why they are voting for Scioli. People left letters on the mirrors of elevators stating their points of view. On social media, in a private group of 300,000 members, each one told his or her story: from people who convinced their ex-sweethearts to others who decided to live together if the ruling party wins. One woman carried a sign on her shopping cart that said “I want to continue being able to fill this dolly,” and another said she was talking on her cell phone in the street with imaginary people just to be able to make pro-Scioli arguments out loud.

During the month the campaign lasted, Sciolism went through different stages. A first reading announced that, in order to seduce the 21% that had voted for the Peronist opposition leader Sergio Massa, it was necessary to de-Kirchnerize the campaign. For that very reason the governor of Buenos Aires Province publicized in his networks that he would be “more Scioli than ever.” President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner held her tongue until the following Thursday, when she spoke from her office and indicated to the Kirchnerist base that they had to electioneer one street corner at a time for the ruling party, although in her entire speech she was sure not to mention the candidate by name.

Last Saturday there were activities in seventy town squares throughout the country. Three days later, the Day of the Militant (a holiday commemorating Juan Perón’s return to Argentina), President Fernández de Kirchner wrote in her social networks: “The street became the protagonist again. But this time there were not just the usual supporters, there were men and women, young and old, families with their children who were not going to any party headquarters, with hand-made signs, with photos cut out and pasted at home. Teachers, scientists, workers, small businessmen, and all with one lone objective: to defend the gains and rights achieved in these twelve-and-a-half years.”

On October 26 Scioli gave a press conference and challenged Macri to a debate. Before the first election, sure of victory, the Buenos Aires governor had refused to participate. But in view of the run-off the set was changed. So that explains how, on Sunday the 15th, the first presidential debate in Argentine history was televised, and there was an atmosphere worthy of a World Cup: it had an average rating of more than 54 points, and it was a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. There was no clear winner. Or at least no one came up with a surprise or delivered a lightning strike. As if it were a technical boxing match, both contestants punched and got punched. The debate for the definitive post-match interpretation was also a draw; uling party supporters claim victory for their candidate, as do supporters of the opposition. What is certain is that neither contestant was knocked out.

Despite the fact that, in the past few months, Macri has begun to make promises not to make structural changes regarding Kirchnerist policies, during the debate he repeatedly accused Scioli of being a ruling-party pawn. Each time he did that, Scioli distanced himself from Kirchnerism, shifted the axis of the discussion, and tried to “unmask” his opponent’s economic plan, listing how he voted in Congress against all the projects that he now claims to defend. There were not, on either of the two sides, many new proposals.

Diego Gonzalez (gonzalezdiegofernandez@gmail.com) is a journalist in Buenos Aires. His blog is www.diegofgonzalez.blogspot.com. TW: @diegon2001. He is an analyst for the Americas Program https://www.americas.org/es/. Julia Muriel Dominzain is a journalist based in Buenos Aires.

Translated by Jonathan Tittler



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