Argentina's Presidential Primaries

Comment SharePrint
Cristina Kirchner, Daniel Scioli, Mauricio Macri, Sergio Massa, Argentine presidential primaries, Argentina's presidential primaries

Daniel Scioli (R), governor of the Argentine province of Buenos Aires stands by Argentine President Fernandez de Kirchner at the Casa Rosada Government House in Buenos Aires, February 11, 2015. Scioli, the front-running candidate for the ruling party ticket in Argentina’s presidential election, has a new buzz word: “gradualismo”, or “gradual change”. It is hardly a slogan to set the campaign trail ablaze ahead of the October 25, 2015 election. Instead it illustrates the tightrope act he needs to pull off as he tries to win the support of outgoing leftist President Fernandez’s loyalists while tapping a rich vein of undecided voters demanding change (Enrique Marcarian/Reuters).

In yesterday’s presidential primaries Daniel Scioli unsurprisingly won the Peronist Frente para la Victoria (FPV) party primary, backed by Cristina Kirchner, with 38 percent of the total vote. The Cambiemos coalition, dominated by the PRO party, nominated current Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri (30 percent). And Sergio Massa became the candidate for the UNA coalition, comprised of dissident Peronists (21 percent). On September 20, the three will begin their official campaigns for the October 25 presidential election (with a potential runoff on November 22). The results reflect a long holding Argentine maxim: when united the Peronists are impossible to beat.

This reality is the main reason why Scioli, who has never had an easy relationship with Kirchner, acquiesced to her close ally Carlos Zannini as his running mate. In return, she forced challenger Florencio Randazzo to bow out of the primary race.

Through this electoral alliance Kirchner hopes to maintain her influence and power. Yet history shows how difficult this will be—her predecessors all failed. Upon entering the Casa Rosada, Scioli will inherit a vast patronage network of millions of jobs and benefits built up during the Kirchner years and benefit himself from strong public support for these programs.

"The Scion and the Heir," The Economist, August 1, 2015.

“The Scion and the Heir,” The Economist, August 1, 2015.

And once out of office Kirchner’s political immunity ends. Numerous potential lawsuits await. In Nevada, a judge has ordered a deeper investigation into Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm accused of helping Kirchner’s friend Lázaro Báez embezzle and launder Argentine public funds. In Buenos Aires, Hotesur, a hotel management firm owned by Kirchner and her family, is under investigation for billing irregularities (also involving Báez). Zannini won’t be able to do much to help her as the vice presidency in Argentina, while symbolically important, is not institutionally powerful.

Scioli may find it useful to keep Kirchner close for a time, calling on her to rally diehard loyalists for changes he wants to make. But he will have the power to dismiss her when her usefulness ends, leaving her to join Carlos Menem and Eduardo Duhalde as former Peronist presidents turned political outcasts. An unemotional politician, whatever Scioli decides will be very strategic.

Published in conjunction with Latin America’s Moment at the Council on Foreign Relations.