December 5, 2013
The man in the middle
Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli did not run last Sunday but perhaps he is more in the centre of the electoral fallout than anybody. If the clearest winner was Tigre Mayor Sergio Massa with his unexpectedly large double-digit margin in Buenos Aires province, there must conversely be a big loser and that would be Scioli rather than Massa’s direct rival, Lomas de Zamora Mayor Martín Insaurralde, as the power in the province and because he was visibly the driving-force behind Insaurralde’s campaign. Yet even though Sunday’s results were pretty much the worse-case scenario for Scioli, he is no more down and out than Kirchnerism as a whole — he himself is probably convinced that (like a preceding Buenos Aires governor Eduardo Duhalde in 1999) his drive for the 2015 ruling party presidential nomination is “condemned to success” (to use Duhalde’s pet phrase), if only by default. Were that so, he must fancy his chances. If Sunday’s elections have the same predictive value as last August’s PASO primaries did for the midterms by pointing to lean government pickings, then 2015 would shape up as a run-off between the Victory Front third of the vote and the Radical-Socialist quarter — it would not take much more for Kirchnerism to win outright with 40 percent of the vote and no other party anywhere near 30 percent.
Sunday night thus did not leave Scioli so badly poised as the results might suggest — if somewhat snubbed on that night when Acting President Amado Boudou was master of ceremonies and Chaco Governor Jorge Capitanich pointedly praised, there were also advantages to not being thrust into centre-stage as the marshal of defeat. Where Scioli has rather more problems is in his own province. His 2014 budget raises public spending by 30 percent (without even allowing for pay increases) while facing a debt of almost 15 billion pesos — this will entail heavier taxation (new property levies are already being lined up). The election results (giving the Victory Front exactly half the provincial senate and less than half the provincial assembly) leave him politically vulnerable when it comes to enforcing these unpopular moves which the opposition parties find all too easy to criticize.
The spotlight tends to fall on President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as a lame duck with her various problems since the August primaries but with his political and fiscal vulnerability — slightly less legislatively solid than the national government and facing a potential squeeze between Massa’s surging Renewal Front and the ultra-Kirchnerite wing of his own party — Scioli may not be any better off.