The electoral campaign returned to the spotlight on Wednesday night with a debate between the five leading candidates for Lower House seats for Buenos Aires City in next weekend’s election.
Perhaps the most explosive moments of the debate came when frontrunner Elisa Carrió from the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) ruling coalition – who won the August PASO primary by a landslide – ventured the opinion that there was a “20 percent possibility” that missing artisan Santiago Maldonado was alive and well in Chile, although she added that should it be proved he died at the hands of the Gendarmerie (Border Guard) – as charged by much of the opposition– the officers who committed and covered up the crime should be fully punished.
The five talking heads facing TN studio cameras were Carrió, Daniel Filmus (Citizen’s Unity, headed by ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner), Martín Lousteau (for the Radicalbacked ECO), Matías Tombolini (1País, headed nationally by dissident Peronist Sergio Massa) and Marcelo Ramal (Leftist Worker Front). The only one missing from the six surviving the PASO primary filter to run next weekend was leftist Luis Zamora.
There was a certain tendency towards polarisation between Carrió and Filmus as the standard-bearers of the current and previous governments respectively but the other trio also had a full say, especially since they had their own comments on the main accusations traded between the two leading contenders – the reforms of the Mauricio Macri administration (consistently branded “austerity” by Filmus) and the corruption cases stemming from the Kirchner years.
Filmus attempted to extract a pledge from the other opposition candidates to combine forces against Macri’s labour and pension reforms but much of the time it was more a case of the other four ganging up on him. Yet the veteran Kirchnerite candidate did not seem to mind this failure too much because it enabled him to claim, in conclusion, that Kirchnerism was the only real opposition to President Mauricio Macri’s coalition.
Ramal was the most aggressive of the five with no past links to either the current or past governments (Filmus, Lousteau and Massa all served Kirchnerism at some point in various capacities). While Filmus also stressed the Maldonado isssue, it was the Trotskyite who attacked Carrió most fiercely for minimising the issue and repeatedly defending Security Minister Patricia Bullrich.
Carrió’s current partnership with Macri did not prevent Filmus from digging up her past criticisms of the president. For her part the anti-graft crusader was cordial toward Lousteau but described Massa as “sinister” while adding that she had nothing against his candidate Tombolini. The latter accused Lousteau of never staying in any one post for any length of time.
The debate was divided into three main blocs – “Education and human development,” “Economy and international relations” and “Justice and public safety” with statements of position followed by question-andanswer sessions.
The quintet exchanged concrete proposals and cheap jabs for almost 90 minutes but at the end of the day Carrió remained in front (as explicitly admitted by Lousteau) – it is very much her election to lose although she risked taking a step in that direction with her provocative comment on Maldonado.