Leaders from Argentina’s main opposition coalition celebrated in San Juan on Sunday night after their candidate triumphed in the gubernatorial election to seize control of the province.
Marcelo Orrego’s victory ends 20 years of Peronist rule in the region and comes after the Supreme Court blocked current Governor’s Sergio Uñac’s re-election bid back in May.
Crucially for the opposition, it breaks the recent trend of incumbent wins in provincial voting just as campaigning for the national presidential primary gets underway.
With 98.89 percent of polling stations reporting on Sunday night, Unidos por San Juan (the opposition Juntos por el Cambio’s coalition’s provincial brand) had taken 49.35 percent of the overall vote, with Orrego the clear winner.
Orrego, 48, is a lawyer, ex-political advisor and former leader of the Producción y Trabajo party, aligned with Juntos por el Cambio in the province.
He comfortably beat rivals Sergio Vallejos – the candidate who initially challenged Uñac's re-election bid in the courts – as well as Marcelo Arancibia (Juntos) and Eduardo Cáceres (San Juan al Futuro).
Voter turnout was approximately 70 percent of the 579,000 citizens registered to vote through the “Democratic Participation System” or SIPAD system. San Juan has reformed its constitution to remove the PASO primaries, with voters going to the polls only once to elect their provincial leader.
San Juan por Todos (the banner under which the ruling coalition is competing) suffered a heavy defeat with Peronism unable to extend its territorial dominance. The alliance took 44.26 percent through its candidates: former governor José Luis Gioja and Senator Rubén Uñac, the current governor's brother who stepped up to run after the Supreme Court’s intervention.
The Frente Desarrollo y Libertad, whose national leader is libertarian deputy and presidential hopeful Javier Milei, trailed way behind in third with only 3.78 percent for its three candidates: Agustín Ramírez, Paola Miers and Yolanda Agüero.
The Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores-Unidad performed even worse, taking just 0.79 percent for its gubernatorial candidate, teacher Cristian Jurado.
The election was originally due to take place on May 14, but it was pushed back after the Supreme Court blocked Governor Uñac’s bid for re-election on constitutional grounds.
Shortly after 9pm, Governor Uñac held a press conference at which he congratulated the opposition and admitted defeat.
"I have come to acknowledge the victory of Juntos por el Cambio in the Province of San Juan. I have shared a communication with Marcelo Orrego, I congratulated him and I am at his disposal for the transition,” said the provincial kingpin.
The Peronist leader vowed to leave behind a local government “in order, with clear accounts, in balance." He admitted that the movement would need to “reconsider, restructure and see what are the next paths we should take” in the wake of defeat.
In his own remarks to the press, Orrego thanked Uñac for his words and vowed to “work with everyone, without any distinction of political ideology" for the good of the province.
"I came to politics to build, to work, to fulfil, to do. The fight between politicians does not solve a single problem of the people," he added.
"The changes coming are changes with certainties," said Orrego. "We have not come here to improvise anything.”
President Alberto Fernández was among those to congratulate the governor-elect.
"I greet the governor-elect of San Juan, Marcelo Orrego," said the Peronist leader. "He faces the challenge of working to guarantee the growth and development of the province. I am confident that he will do so.”
A host of Juntos por el Cambio’s national leaders, including Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, Gerardo Morales, Martín Lousteau, José Luis Espert, Maximiliano Ferraro and Miguel Ángel Pichetto, were on-hand to celebrate Orrego’s triumph.
"Huge congratulations to all the people of San Juan who dared to change, to Marcelo Orrego, an example of work, of dedication, a guy who works hard, who knows the problems, who has travelled the province", said Rodríguez Larreta, a frontrunner to win the coalition’s presidential nomination and the mayor of Buenos Aires City.
The PRO leader said he is sure Orrego would “bring about a profound change in San Juan, which is going to be one of the driving-forces of Argentina's recovery.”
The opposition leader described the local coalition which led Orrego to victory as “another example of the importance of joining forces.”
“Working together is how we are going to beat Kirchnerism in Argentina,” he declared.