Update: The election results are out and Daniel Scioli of the ruling Front for Victory won 36.86% of the vote, Mauricio Macri of the Republican Proposal Party secured 34.33% while Sergio Massa got 21.34%. Since Scioli failed to secure 45% of the vote, he will now fight Macri in a run-off election for president on November 22.
More than 32 million Argentines will head to the polls on Sunday to choose the successor of Cristina Kirchner, whose two consecutive terms have been marked by a leftward swing that has produced generous programmes of social welfare and state control of the economy but also higher inflation, and a default on debt owed to hedge funds.
Although six candidates are in the fray, the three leading contenders according to different opinion polls and surveys are Daniel Scioli of the ruling Front for Victory party (FPV), Mauricio Macri of the Republican Proposal party (PRO) and Sergio Massa of the Front for Reform party (FR). While Scioli is a centre-left Peronist – Peronism is Argentina’s populist-nationalist political movement that has enjoyed a new hold on the country in the 12 years that Cristina and her late husband Nestor Kirchner have ruled – Macri and his party are inclined towards the liberal centre-right. Massa broke away from Kirchner’s FPV and founded the Front for Reform part as, a centre-right Peronist party.
Scioli, 58, who leads the opinion polls, has been the governor of the province of Buenos Aires since 2007. In a recent campaign speech, he said that, if elected, he will reduce a controversial income tax provision – which would allow more than half a million people from the middle class stop paying it. “We will take action in relation to income tax. An employee or retired person making less than 30,000 pesos (US $ 12,400) will not pay this tax”, Scioli said. A former speedboat racer, Scioli lost his right arm in an accident in 1989.
The 56-year-old Macri has been the mayor of the city of Buenos Aires since 2007. A businessman regarded as market-friendly and famous as the president of the famous Boca Juniors Football Club, Macri has been talking about pro-market reforms that will help restore confidence in Argentina, both at home and abroad. Recently, in one of his campaigns he said, “For those who are thinking of other options, I humbly ask you to follow in Yes we can.” copying the campaign slogan of US President Barack Obama.
Massa, 43, is ranked third in the polls. He is a former minister of Kirchner who split and went to the opposition in 2013, and leads the right-wing of Peronism, the United Front for a New Alternative (UNA). He has been campaigning against the ruling party aggressively personally targeting Cristina’s leadership.
Scioli favoured in runoff
Whoever ends up second on Sunday will face an uphill battle to defeat Scioli in a runoff. Though polling firms show Scioli ahead of his main rival Macri, it is quite probably that he will not be able to get the 45% of total votes he need – or at least 40% with a 10-point lead over the second placed candidate – to avoid a runoff. According to pollsters, Scioli is predicted to receive between 38.5 and 41% of the vote, Macri between 27.5-30% and Massa 21-23.5%. The runoff, if required, will be held on November 22.
Earlier, in the primary elections that were held on August 9, 2015, Scioli received 38% of the votes, Macri 30% and Sergio Massa 20% of the votes. In total six candidates were declared eligible for contesting the main elections, with 1.5% of votes or more in the primary election.
Argentina has seen inflation in double digits since 2008 and it has exceeded 20% in the past four years. The unemployment rate is 6.6%, according to official figures, and the country has a wage adjustment system in negotiation between unions and companies to offset inflation. Thus, the rising cost of the basic food basket is not an issue that mobilises voters. Analysts agree that there is a perception that “the future will be better than the present,” even in a difficult macroeconomic scenario for the next president, with an overvalued peso, exchange restrictions and a stagnant economy.
There has been much speculation among Argentine analysts about the extent to which Scioli is beholden to Kirchner. A politician known to be more corporate-friendly than the incumbent president whose support he has now secured, Scioli has tacked to the left in recent weeks. But even if the economic agenda of ‘Kirchnerismo’ continues under him for a while, he is expected to temper Cristina’s confrontationist style of political management in which criticism of policies is seen as a personal slight.