The PASO primaries line-up for Argentina’s main opposition coalition, Juntos por el Cambio, came sharply into focus this weekend, after influential politicians Patricia Bullrich and Elisa Carrió confirmed they would not be candidates in this year’s midterm elections.
Bullrich, the hardline PRO party leader and former security minister, announced her long-awaited decision in a letter posted on social networks. She said that while she would not run for office in Buenos Aires City, she would travel the country campaigning for opposition candidates. Pointedly, the 65-year-old declared that she was looking ahead to the 2023 general elections – a not too subtle reference to her publicly stated aim of running for the presidency.
The news is a major political victory for City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, who had pressured Bullrich not to run in the capital, potentially splitting the vote. He also appears to have overcome the influence of former president and PRO party founder Mauricio Macri, who had supported his former minister’s desire to run for a seat as a national deputy.
Rodríguez Larreta, who is also expected to run for president in two years' time, wants a more moderate candidate heading the ticket within his jurisdiction. María Eugenia Vidal – who has refused to head the opposition list for the PASO primaries in Buenos Aires Province, where she previously served one term as governor – is his preferred candidate.
Macri had previously called for Vidal to run in the nation's most-populous province, but as negotiations between the City mayor and PRO party leaders’ two camps intensified this week, the former president left Argentina and flew off to Europe.
Bullrich announced her “resignation” in a four-page letter. She justified the move on two main grounds – in order to avoid a messy internal battle within the party she leads and to be better positioned for a run for the Casa Rosada in 2023.
The former government official expects to exert more influence over lists nationwide, according to reports, and will be deployed as a major asset for Juntos por el Cambio nationwide on the campaign trail.
Rodríguez Larreta reacted swiftly to the news, praising the former security minister for her decision.
“Thank you, @PatoBullrich, for your great show of responsibility, commitment and conviction. You are undoubtedly a leader throughout the country,” he wrote on Twitter.
“We are going to continue working together to strengthen the unity of @juntoscambioar, and achieve the best electoral offering in the City, the Province of Buenos Aires and in all the provinces of Argentina,” he added.
Vidal also congratulated Bullrich for her “decision in favour of unity in this very important election,” which will see Juntos por el Cambio field a unified coalition list in the capital, drawing in PRO, the UCR and the Civic Coalition.
While unifying the slate for the PASOs in the City, the debate over Bullrich's role and where she is best deployed is a taste of what is likely to be a feisty battle for the leadership of Juntos por el Cambio in the years ahead, especially in the lead-up to the next presidential election.
PRO, the coalition's dominant party, is currently seen as split into two camps, nominally dubbed “hawks” and “moderates,” with Bullrich and Rodríguez Larreta seen as figureheads representing either side respectively. As well as Bullrich, who declared that she was “betting on 2023” in her announcement, Rodríguez Larreta, Vidal and Macri have all hinted they want to run for the nation’s highest office next time out.
Meanwhile, the Radicals (UCR), who took on more of a backseat role in Macri’s 2015-2019 government, are seeking greater representation.
In an interview on Sunday, Bullrich said she had dreamt of "being president since I was six years old" and acknowledged that she would face stiff competition from within her own party to win the nomination in 2023. This latest decision, she argued, was for the greater good.
"As president of PRO I decided to set an example, to renounce a candidacy but not the fight," she told Radio Rivadavia.
By Sunday evening, the minister was posting a photograph of herself with the City mayor on Twitter, saying that they both shared the same aims.
“With @HoracioRLarreta, we understand that the force of change is in unity. We need to be together to defend the Republic and end this decadence that robs us of the future. We want to build a country in which progress is the reason for each Argentine,” she wrote.
Carrió drops out
On a day of resignations and reconciliations, firebrand Coalición Cívica leader Elisa Carrió also confirmed that she would not run for office in Buenos Aires Province.
Carrió, who had previously floated herself as a unity candidate in the nation’s most-populous district, had sounded out a number of possibilities for a list, including topping a ticket with Buenos Aires City Deputy Mayor Diego Santilli (Rodríguez Larreta preferred her as second).
But the weekend’s news that neuroscientist Facundo Manes will be running on the UCR slate, likely against Santilli in Buenos Aires Province, meant unity was no longer on the table.
“"Having failed in the attempt at unity, I renounce any candidacy," she said in a post on social networks. Manes’ run for office “lacks historical sense,” she added, “and my sacrifice would be useless.”