Argentina and its much smaller neighbor, Uruguay, both go to the polls on Sunday for presidential and congressional elections. They can conveniently be considered together.
Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, was elected narrowly four years ago in the midst of a continent-wide movement towards the right. He won 51.3% of the vote in the second round, beating Daniel Scioli, who represented the left wing of the Peronist party, the Justicialists.
Prior to that, the left-Peronists had held office for 12 years, under first Néstor Kirchner and then his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Term limits prevented Fernández de Kirchner from running again, and voters took the opportunity to try something different.
Now it they seem to have changed their minds again. Macri is seeking re-election, but the polls show him to be trailing badly. There is more unity among the Peronists this time: Alberto Fernández, who was prime minister under the Kirchners but supported the right-Peronist candidate, Sergio Massa, in 2015, is running for president with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as his running mate.
Fernández is polling somewhere around the 50% mark, with Macri back in the low 30s. There are another four candidates, but right-Peronist Roberto Lavagna, polling in the high single figures, is the only one with any appreciable support.
The winning candidate does not need to reach 50% to avoid a runoff; they only need 45%, or 40% plus a margin of at least ten points. Fernández is highly favored to meet at least one of those tests, and quite possibly both.
That’s probably not good news for Argentina’s economy, which took a battering under the Kirchners’ spendthrift policies. But having seen the rise of ultra-Trumpist president Jair Bolsonaro next door in Brazil, it’s understandable if Argentina’s voters are feeling a bit more kindly towards the left than they were four years ago.
The same dynamic is at work in Uruguay, with the difference that it was the one South American country where the swing to the right a few years ago never showed up. In 2014 (presidential terms are five years, as against four in Argentina) the centre-left Broad Front saw its candidate, Tabaré Vázquez, elected comfortably with 56.6% in the second round.
Vázquez is ineligible to run again, and his party has chosen Daniel Martínez, former mayor of Montevideo, to replace him. He needs to win a majority of the vote for a first-round victory, and the polls show little chance of that happening. Instead Martínez will most probably go into a runoff with Luis Lacalle Pou, from the centre-right National Party.
Of the nine other candidates, the Colorado Party’s Ernesto Talvi and the far right’s Guido Manini Ríos are the most significant. (It’s worth noting that despite Uruguay’s reputation as a leader in progressive politics, all 11 presidential candidates are men.)
Assuming a second round is required, it’s scheduled to be held four weeks later, on 24 November. We’ll see then whether Uruguay maintains its record of moving against the trend.