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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 24-06-2023 01:22

Northwest by northeast

We will have to await Chaco’s final provincial elections on September 17 to see how many degrees last Sunday’s political earthquake rated on the Richter scale.

In theory a column centred on this year’s elections and published on the same day as one of the three most important milestones in the pre-electoral calendar – the definition of candidacies – should be giving that topic its exclusive focus but that is a mission impossible today. And not just because mayhem in the northwest and an electorally disruptive femicide in the northeast has been stealing the headlines this week – when this column was written in midweek with just three days to go for the deadline, there was a virtual lack of any presidential tickets to grab the public interest in the unlikely event of any much interest existing.

With the single exception of the libertarian La Libertad Avanza, where decision-making is a one-man show – Javier Milei already named fellow-deputy Victoria Villarruel to run under him a month ago – absolutely no presidential candidacy had defined its running-mate before Wednesday. Both major coalitions present too many unknowns. At time of writing it was not known whether the Unión por la Patria primary would be contested or the identity of the single candidate if not – Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had yet to select one of the three names in her envelope while it remained an open question whether Daniel Scioli could overcome the regulatory obstacle race and register a neo-Peronist alternative to Kirchnerism for a rerun of his 2015 presidential candidacy. Nor was it at all clear how many of the six or seven Juntos por el Cambio opposition presidential hopefuls would end up filing their bids by midnight tonight. Not to mention the senatorial candidates and Congress lists in provinces great and small. Sorry, reader, but with so many last-minute decisions in the works, absolutely nothing will be speculated in today’s column and everything analysed next week.

Instead this column will centre on last Sunday’s primary in Chaco and attempt curtain-raisers for tomorrow’s key election in Córdoba (largely upstaged by the dramas further north this week despite having the country’s second-largest electorate) and in Chaco’s neighbour Formosa, thus sticking to a strictly electoral path without digressing into the Jujuy violence – a column in itself – or who killed Cecilia Strzyzowski.

Not that the latter had no bearing on the Chaco PASO primary results but their impact can also be overrated – if the Peronist vote fell almost six percent short of the combined Juntos por el Cambio opposition vote (only the third incumbent defeat of the 13 provinces holding elections or primaries so far this year), the gap was nearly nine points or some 200,000 votes in the last primary two years ago yet Peronist Governor Jorge Capitanich could still lead his party to a two-point victory in the actual midterms, fuelled by lavish “plan platita” spending nationwide.

The low turnout of 58 percent was also widely commented but it was only two points higher in the last PASO – primaries and midterms never draw the same interest as the final choice of the top job. Blank and spoiled ballots were 9.1 percent of the total vote. The Capitanich vote undoubtedly suffered from guilt by association, given his close links with the picket femicide suspect Emerenciano Sena, but this could also be relative – an extra-long Father’s Day weekend may well have accounted for some of the difference. We will have to await the final provincial elections on September 17 to see how many degrees last Sunday’s political earthquake rated on the Richter scale.

Election night saw various swings of fortune in a slow count. Capitanich held a two-point lead in mid-evening which had been reversed by midnight but with Juan Carlos Polini narrowly ahead of Leandro Zdero among the Radical gubernatorial hopefuls. It was only the next day that Zdero clinched the opposition nomination to challenge Capitanich next September with 23 percent of the vote as against Polini’s 19.5 percent with the governor ignoring the overall result (only 36.8 percent for his Frente Chaqueño against 42.6 percent for Juntos por el Cambio) to preen himself as the single most voted candidate, a logic likely to be emulated by Milei after the August 13 national PASO primary. This still leaves under 80 percent voting for the three main candidates. The CER (Corriente Expresión Renovada) list of outgoing Resistencia Peronist mayor Gustavo Martínez polled nearly nine percent, doubling a libertarian vote divided between local television host Alfredo Rodríguez (2.7 percent) and Rubén Galassi (1.8 percent) – yet another inland failure for Milei. 

The provincial capital of Resistencia (where the backlash against Sena, who had run its South Side, was the most visible) was decisive both between and within parties. The huge Juntos por el Cambio lead of 25 percent there made an opposition victory irreversible and any Peronist hinterland vote manipulation irrelevant. But the municipal tail may well have wagged the gubernatorial dog more than the national head in clinching Zdero’s nomination. He was backed by most of the national Radical and Juntos por el Cambio leadership with the more centre-left Polini supported by Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales, Senator Martín Lousteau and Chaco ex-governor Angel Rozas. But the more potent Radical ex-governor proved to be Roy Nikisch, Zdero’s pick for the provincial capital’s City Hall, who swept aside a strong rival, former three-term Resistencia mayor Aida Ayala backing Polini, by 20 points to clinch the mayoral nomination.

Tomorrow Córdoba will be the first heavyweight to go to the polls with its electorate of almost three million (2,984,631) or around a third of all the provinces voting so far. The opinion polls point to outgoing provincial capital Peronist Mayor Martín Llaryora topping the vehement PRO Senator Luis Juez (himself an ex-mayor) representing a united Juntos por el Cambio by several points although pollsters are less than infallible – the momentum of 24 years of Peronist rule under the late José Manuel de la Sota and outgoing Governor Juan Schiaretti seems to be pointing towards yet another incumbent win. If so, PRO presidential hopeful Patricia Bullrich is sure to blame City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s ill-timed outreach to Schiaretti but there is some opinion poll evidence that this may have halved Llaryora’s lead by making the opposition seem more interchangeable with the popular governor (who in turn has adopted stances closer to the opposition than Kirchnerism).

Polarised although this election is, Llaryora and Juez are not expected to net much more than three-quarters of the vote between them, leaving almost a quarter for the other nine candidates. The Kirchnerism so alien to Schiaretti is represented by Federico Alessandri (Creo en Córdoba) with Agustín Spaccesi running for La Libertad Avanza while conservative candidate Rodolfo Eiben of Frente Liberal also woos the libertarian bandwagon. There are two far left lists, FIT and Nuevo MAS, both with female candidates, Liliana Olivero and Julia Di Santi respectively. Three more candidates (Aurelio García Elorrio, Patricia Bon and Mario Peral) carry the approach of “All politics is local” to extremes while Humanist Fernando Schüle rounds out the list.

Nothing is closer to a foregone conclusion than Formosa’s provincial election once the Supreme Court backed away from challenging Gildo Insfrán’s bid for an eighth term under the elsewhere extinct label of Frente para la Victoria.  The main question is whether Insfrán will top the 70 percent mark, as he did in his last re-eIection in 2019, such is his iron grip on the province. Radical deputy Fernando Carbajal (with a youthful running-mate María Fernanda Insfrán, 34, no relation) has succeeded in forming a broad front allying Juntos por el Cambio with all other opposition parties except the Trotskyist Partido Obrero (Fabián Servín) and a new party representing farmers, Libertad, Trabajo y Progreso under Francisco Paoltroni.

But more eyes are likely to be on Córdoba tomorrow.

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys

Michael Soltys, who first entered the Buenos Aires Herald in 1983, held various editorial posts at the newspaper from 1990 and was the lead writer of the publication’s editorials from 1987 until 2017.

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