Argentina’s main opposition coalition erupted in a very public bout of infighting on Monday after Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta announced voters in the capital will cast votes in the local and general elections on the same day.
Confirming a move trailed over the weekend in the local press, the PRO presidential hopeful said that voters will go to the polls on the same day but on separate ballots, a move he described as a “concurrent split.”
The move is a shift from previous years when the race for City mayor has been decided in advance of national elections. Under the new format, voting will use two different systems: an electronic system will be used for local elections with paper ballots used for the general elections.
The move met with fierce criticism from his coalition allies, with a host of Juntos por el Cambio heavyweights taking to social media to denounce the decision. Former president Mauricio Macri, for example, described the move as a “profound disappointment.”
In what commentators saw as a warning to Rodríguez Larreta, the ex-president had remarked over the weekend that such a vote would be "going against everything we have worked for over so many years.”
The former president’s comments came just minutes after Juntos por el Cambio presidential hopeful María Eugenia Vidal also voiced her dismay. She linked the decision to the City mayor’s “personal ambitions” and rejected the news.
"We are the change or we are nothing," Vidal posted on social media. "What PRO and the JxC [Juntos por el Cambio] promised to the Argentines is not this," said the national lawmaker and former governor of Buenos Aires Province via social media.
"There is no personal ambition that can be above our values and the team. We are the change or we are nothing.”
Rodríguez Larreta’s main rival in the race for the opposition presidential nomination, PRO chair Patricia Bullrich, also weighed in, posting a video from last November in which the mayor said that changing the rules was akin to “cheating.”
“It is very simple: consistency and conviction are the values we stand for,” wrote Bullrich.
“That's why: ‘It's wrong to change the rules. It's cheating,’ as Horacio Rodríguez Larreta said,” she continued.
According to the national electoral calendar, the PASO primaries will be held on August 13 and general elections on October 22.
Voters in Buenos Aires will cast two ballots on the same dates: one for authorities and lawmakers in the Federal Capital and another for president and national deputies.
If a run-off is needed in the presidential race, that will take place on November 19.
According to Rodríguez Larreta, who is serving his last term as City mayor and running for the opposition presidential nomination, the move will prevent porteños from having to go to vote up to six times this year and make less of a dent in the capital’s coffers.
"It saves us a lot of time and avoids unnecessary expense,” said the presidential candidate in a video announcement confirming the move.
"We are going to do it with a single electronic ballot, which is a more agile, simpler, a more transparent system and is a banner of PRO that Mauricio [Macri] started in the City in 2015 and that we also promoted together with Juntos por el Cambio at the national level," he explained.
Some figures in the opposition coalition have previously called for the switch to an electronic system and to unify voting on the same day.
"My commitment is that it will be a reality throughout the country in the next government and I want the City to be at the forefront of this change," said Rodríguez Larreta.
Analysts saw the move as a bid by Rodríguez Larreta to underline his autonomy from Macri and as a concession to Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) Senator Martín Lousteau, who is running for the City Hall mayoral post.
Lousteau, one of the mayor’s closest allies in the UCR, has reportedly asked Rodríguez Larreta not to bring forward the local elections in a bid to level the playing-field and his party says such a move will give greater “autonomy” to the capital.
Others noted that Rodríguez Larreta will hope that whatever candidate he backs in the PASO primaries will win big, helping him to gain momentum and a more dominant leadership within PRO and the opposition coalition in the run-up for the national presidential vote.
Macri is pushing for his cousin, Jorge Macri, to succeed Rodríguez Larreta in City Hall.
Preference for PRO
In a nod to the battle to replace him as mayor, Rodríguez Larreta also sought to shoot down rumours he would formally back Lousteau’s bid to be his successor, declaring that he will “support a candidate from my party, which is the PRO" – a reference to mayoral hopefuls Jorge Macri, Fernán Quirós and Soledad Acuña, who all currently form part of his government.
"In the coming weeks we will be working to define the best candidate to continue with all the transformations which we started with Mauricio [Macri] and which we have continued until today," concluded the mayor.
Rodríguez Larreta’s decision did win backing from the Coalición Cívica ARI, the third leg of the Juntos por el Cambio trident.
In a statement, the party led by veteran lawmaker Elisa ‘Lilita’ Carrió offered its backing for the mayor, firmly backing his autonomy.
"The Civic Coalition of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires declares with respect to the elections to elect a Head of Government and a President of the Nation, that the people of Buenos Aires must vote independently, and that complying with the provisions of our legal system is not changing the rules of the game, as some political actors interpret, but on the contrary, it is about complying with the electoral rules governing us," the party said in a pointed reference to Macri’s remarks.
"The time has come to honour our electorate with a single ballot and to be able to elect our next head of government without conditions. This can be done concurrently with the election of the President of the Nation,” continued the statement.
"We believe it is imperative that this year's elections should be held with autonomy, guaranteeing that the residents can vote freely at the polls, with a single ballot for the local categories, being able to elect the President of the Nation and the representatives in Congress on the same day by the classic ballot system, which in the future should be modified so that once and for all the single ballot is possible for district and national elections," it concluded.
In a statement, the UCR – the second leg of the Juntos por el Cambio trident – criticised Macri’s remarks and observed that it was “contrary to what he did as head of [the City] government.”
In 2015, as then-City mayor, Macri brought forward the local elections and residents in the capital had to vote six times (between local and national elections). In that year, the single electronic ballot was also implemented for the first time, a system which will now be used again.
This will not be the first time that Buenos Aires City has adopted such an approach to voting, though never before has it been decided that ‘split’ elections will take place on the same day as the national general election.