The next milestone in the electoral calendar is tomorrow’s PASO primary voting by the country’s third-largest electorate but first the national picture in extremely broad brushstrokes.
Last Sunday’s inauguration of the Néstor Kirchner gas pipeline should have transcended the election campaign as a national benefit crossing all party lines but was injected into the partisan battlefield by an opportunistic abuse for propaganda purposes. To which may be added the chronic backstabbing within the Juntos por el Cambio opposition coalition and the continuing opinion poll decline of Javier Milei’s libertarians to well below 20 percent due to the spotlight on their venal candidacy practices (about which they were always extremely candid but somehow went unnoticed until recently). This situation has prompted PRO presidential hopeful Patricia Bullrich to overact the hard line in her television spots on the assumption that Milei voters are drawn far more by violent tones than by sober content – it remains to be seen whether Milei’s loss will be her gain or simply more abstention.
The pipeline controversy could easily fill this space but will be left aside as a gratuitous intrusion into the campaign. What remains clear is that a pipeline coming fully a dozen years after confirming the vast potential of Vaca Muerta shale could have been inaugurated much sooner and both the Mauricio Macri and Frente de Todos administrations are at fault for allowing most of those years to slip by without even a tender. The urgency of the currency collapse in the drought year of 2018 obliged the Macri presidency to suspend the pipeline along with all other public works, the urgency of world gas prices increasing tenfold in the wake of last year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine obliged this government to build it – where does this leave the blame game and the brownie points? It may be debated whether the delay of three years in order to convert Macri’s public-private partnership into a purely state enterprise was justified but the main thing remains that the pipeline is now finally on stream.
Turning to tomorrow’s PASO primary in Santa Fe, the mutual backstabbing within Juntos por el Cambio mentioned above is far from absent there – indeed nowhere else is the internal warfare more open. The infighting between fellow-Radicals Senator Carolina Losada and Maximiliano Pullaro is feeding government hopes of a momentum swing back from a string of recent defeats in provinces like Chaco, Mendoza, San Juan and San Luis (the latter two Peronist strongholds now snatched by the opposition). Nevertheless, tomorrow’s vote remains theirs for the opposition to lose with a broad front (despite the civil war within Radicalism) since outgoing Peronist Governor Omar Perotti has had to face all the problems eroding the popularity of the national government plus the sanguinary security nightmare of Rosario – especially considering that Peronism has not won in this province in the last two decades, except for the Macri meltdown of 2019.
No real need to go too much into the “he said, she said” between Losada and Pullaro (anybody might think that they were married!) – it mostly hinges around the latter’s stint as provincial security minister in the 2015-2019 administration of late socialist governor Miguel Lifschitz (a Covid-19 victim) with Losada accusing Pullaro of conniving in police complicity with drug-trafficking rings. Their spat dovetails into the nationwide contest for the Juntos por el Cambio presidential nomination with Losada backed by Bullrich and Pullaro by City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Radical Senator Martín Lousteau. One consequence of this feuding is that the main Peronist gubernatorial hopeful Marcelo Lewandowsky might well garner the single highest vote total tomorrow ahead of his fellow-senator but this would not mean an overall victory.
Three gubernatorial hopefuls have already been named above but what is the full choice facing an electorate which has just been officially confirmed as numbering 2,818,280 voters and just under eight percent of the nation (7.96 percent)? The gubernatorial candidates number 13 in total, of whom four correspond to the ruling Peronists, three to the main opposition (excluding Juntos por el Cambio partners Coalición Cívica headed nationally by the recently hospitalised Elisa Carrió), two leftists and three others.
Starting in provincial government ranks, the official candidate among the official candidates is Senator Lewandowsky (especially strong in Rosario) who is expected to trounce his internal rivals with the support of the local party machine. Those three rivals are deputy Marcos Cleri representing La Cámpora militants (whose performances this year have generally been dire), Leandro Busatto backed by Cabinet Chief Agustín Rossi (now Sergio Massa’s running-mate and historically underwhelming in his home province) and Eduardo Toniolli of the Movimiento Evita pickets. But here the tail might wag the dog a bit since the Peronists have a strong ticket for Congress headed by Frente de Todos caucus chief Germán Martínez with Immigration Department chief Florencia Carignano (representing La Cámpora) and Transport Minister Diego Giuliano, a key henchman of Massa.
The Juntos por el Cambio bid is purely Radical since PRO acting national party chairman Federico Angelini is seconding Losada while, as mentioned above, Coalición Cívica is running separately (Eduardo Maradona). The third hopeful on the Unidos para Cambiar Santa Fe ticket apart from Losada and Pullaro is Socialist deputy and two-term Rosario ex-mayor Mónica Fein in the hope of drawing votes which made Santa Fe a socialist stronghold between 2007 and 2019. Losada, triumphant in 2021 and backed by PRO, is the favourite to grasp the opposition gubernatorial nomination.
The remaining hopefuls are leftists Octavio Crivaro and Carla Deiana (Partido de los Trabajdores Socialistas and the Trotskyist Partido Obrero respectively), Gustavo Marconato (close to former Economy minister Alfonso Prat Gay), Moderado (which should speak for itself) Walter Eiguren and Edelvino Bodoira for Viva la Libertad (more pro-life than libertarian). Tomorrow we should have the results and some idea of how they will dictate the actual provincial elections come September 10.