Election preview: Argentina

Today is a big day on the electoral calendar: in addition to Poland (previewed yesterday) there are elections in Tanzania, Haiti, Ivory Coast and Guatemala. But the big one is Argentina, which votes overnight for a new president and both houses of the legislature.

The presidential election is to elect a replacement for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who has served the maximum permitted two consecutive terms, having been first elected in 2007 in succession to her husband, Néstor Kirchner. Both represented the Justicialist Party, the historical vehicle of Juan Perón, but not all Peronists have been happy with the Kirchners’ left-wing policies. Today the party’s factions are backing rival candidates.

Voting is a two-round system, with the runoff to be held, if needed, in four weeks time. But a candidate doesn’t have to have more than 50% to win in the first round: it’s enough to pass 45%, or to be above 40% and more than 10% ahead of any rival. It’s not a bad compromise between producing a winner with majority support and saving the trouble and expense of an unnecessary second round.

There are six candidates on the ballot paper, but only three who are serious contenders: former vice-president Daniel Scioli, representing the official centre-left or Kirchnerite wing of Peronism; Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, representing the centre-right opposition of the Radical Civic Union and his own Republican Proposal; and Sergio Massa, representing the dissident centre-right wing of the Peronists.

So Scioli very much wants a first round victory; if he’s forced to a runoff, there’s a risk of voters consolidating behind his opponent – particularly if that opponent is Massa. Fortunately for him, that seems unlikely. Polls show Scioli nudging the 40% mark, with Macri in the high 20s and Massa running third in the low 20s.

But even assuming Scioli wins, the Kirchners will be a hard act to follow. Their high-spending ways have been popular in many quarters, but are widely regarded as unsustainable. The BBC’s Wyre Davies says that Scioli will face “rocketing inflation, embarrassing levels of poverty and inequality and those empty Central Bank coffers,” and that he will do so without “Cristina’s charisma and her rapport with Argentina’s working classes.”

Argentina has an American-style presidential system, with full separation of powers, so policy outcomes also depend upon the results for Congress, where half the Chamber of Deputies and a third of the Senate are up for election. The current legislative position is complex – Adam Carr lists 18 different groups holding seats after the 2013 mid-term election – but basically the official wing of the Peronists and their allies have been able to command a majority.

This time, however, they are defending lower house seats that they won in Kirchner’s landslide victory of 2011. So a certain amount of slippage is to be expected, which would add to the new president’s difficulties.

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