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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The cold election

Dissident Peronist presidential candidate Sergio Massa and his ally Feiipe Solá, hopeful for Buenos Aires province, talking to neighbours in Escobar on July 25.
By Julio Burdman
Observatorio Electoral

Passionate politics seems to drop the confrontational tone for a while

There is one thing we can take for granted: Daniel Scioli will come first in the PASO primaries next Sunday. Argentina is a large, federal country, and the Victory Front (FpV) is, no doubt, the main coalition in Argentine politics. The FpV is the only grouping with competitive representation throughout the country.

As a result, we can say that if Scioli comes first next Sunday, he also will in the general election itself (the first round) on October 25. Still enough time for that — between the primaries and the general election lie 11 weeks in which a lot of things can happen. But if there is no shock, it would be expected that Scioli will then pick up even more votes, because his voters in the primaries will join others from the candidates who didn’t make it past the PASO. What’s more, it is also expected that whoever comes second on Sunday behind Scioli (let’s say Mauricio Macri), will also get more votes in October, due to the opposition voters (regardless of whether their first choices reached the primary floor or not) then being convinced that Macri is the real challenger against Kirchnerism. That’s the famous polarization.

All these things can be predicted from the analysis of current political trends. But what is very difficult to foresee today is what would happen if Scioli is not elected in the first round and has to fight a run-off. Hence, the election is open-ended. The option “change vs. continuity” which many politicians bought at the supermarket is quite useless for campaigning, or to anticipate what voters will do if they face the first run-off in our democratic history. Will all opposition voters align behind Macri against Scioli? Or perhaps many Massa and De la Sota supporters will prefer Scioli, another Peronist, instead of Macri? Will the left leaders call again for the blank vote, as they usually do in run-offs? The answer to all these questions is the same — we don’t know yet, because the electorate is not used to second rounds and Argentines still don’t see themselves facing the scenario of having to define a presidency at that instance. All we can say is that the candidate who best knows how to attract the voters of other political forces during those weeks of November will eventually win.

COLD STRATEGIES

Therefore, all of Scioli’s efforts are set to avoid that uncertain run-off, as Macri will do his best to attract Massa’s and De la Sota’s voters in October and — maybe — November. Both are carrying out a campaign crossed by speculation and cold-blooded strategies. Very different, for now, from the passionate electoral battles of the years of Kirchnerism. Along the way, families are fighting much less, and the serious allegations of Elisa Carrió and Jorge Lanata seem dissonant with the new calmer and lighter times. It even seems, through this cold election, that the political breach begins to close in Argentina.

Macri took a predictable step in this scenario: he shifted to the centre. It has been said that the head of PRO has become a sort of Kirchnerite, when in fact what he did was to look more like Massa. Taking for granted his own electorate, he went out to chase his real competitor’s voters by imitating his centrist speech of “keeping the right, changing the wrong.” Scioli, meanwhile, returned to doing what he knows: his campaign regained the optimistic (and not confrontational) tone that has always characterized him, and never failed. Textbook catch-all politics.

But while the recent innovations of Let’s Change’s candidate look limited to his discursive tools, Scioli’s strategies focused on territorial bargaining. The Buenos Aires province governor, like a primus inter pares, is trying to engage all the Peronist governors to work fully in their districts and maximize his support in each province. His campaign is Kirchnerite, but also Peronist. He is promising ministries and a strong federal alliance; as a matter of fact, the creation of new ministries appears to match his model of governance.

Among those provincial leaders who will be Scioli’s future allies are two opposition presidential candidates. Scioli has personal friendships with both Córdoba’s Jose Manuel De la Sota and San Luis’ Adolfo Rodríguez Saá, two Peronist caudillos whose lobbying power at the Pink House was reduced during the CFK years. They will not win the primaries, but whatever they get can become a matter of negotiation at the current stage. Both De la Sota and Rodríguez Saá are trying to be courted by Scioli and Macri. They need them to be functional to their presidential campaigns in October and November. But despite the efforts of Macri (who supported the rightwing Radical leader Oscar Aguad in Córdoba a few weeks ago), both De la Sota and Rodríguez Saá actually seem to be more comfortable with Scioli than with the yellow candidate.

In the case of De la Sota and Schiaretti, they have a very specific reason to get along with the next president: the province of Cordoba is suing the national government before the Supreme Court, and the current government has postponed dealing with the case. The President and the Supreme Court must solve this together, otherwise it does not seem viable. De la Sota has an ally in the Supreme Court, Judge Juan Carlos Maqueda, and he knows that with Scioli at the Casa Rosada, the three will be able to sit down and talk.

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