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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 01-07-2023 08:46

The men in the middle

Hard not to read this as an unmitigated defeat for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner but those who see her as the ultimate political genius view this as a cunning move to leave Massa holding the baby for an inevitable national defeat while tightening her own grip on pivotal Buenos Aires Province.

Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta was hit by a double whammy last weekend. Firstly, the middle ground at the heart of his campaign strategy suddenly became a whole lot more crowded with the abrupt change of Unión por la Patria presidential candidacy to Economy Minister Sergio Massa from his Interior colleague Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Pedro – until then Rodríguez Larreta had not been anticipating any more competition for moderate and floating voters than the relatively minor challenge of the non-Kirchnerite Peronist Hacemos por Nuestro País list headed by outgoing Córdoba Governor Juan Schiaretti (whom he had unsuccessfully tried to absorb into Juntos por el Cambio early last month). Then the latter’s province voted last Sunday with, among other results, another underwhelming libertarian performance in a major district this time – for perhaps the first time in this campaign this stands to tilt the tactical libertarian voter towards Rodríguez Larreta’s Juntos por el Cambio primary rival Patricia Bullrich rather than Javier Milei (the two opponents against whom the government can most easily polarise). Two strikes, but it will take three for the City Mayor to be out and he still holds some cards up his sleeve. 

The big story in the final countdown to last Saturday’s midnight deadline for registering candidates was, of course, the dramatic U-turn: replacing De Pedro and outgoing Tucumán Governor Juan Manzur with Massa and Cabinet Chief Agustín Rossi as the government presidential ticket while squeezing out the 2015 standard-bearer Daniel Scioli presenting a Schiaretti-style alternative to Kirchnerism within Unión por la Patria, thus virtually ensuring an uncontested PASO primary (with social leader Juan Grabois playing the spoiler while providing a repository for dogmatic ideologies resisting the ultra-pragmatic Massa).

Hard not to read this as an unmitigated defeat for Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner but those (friends and foes alike) who see her as the ultimate political genius incapable of simple human errors view this as a cunning move to leave Massa holding the baby for an inevitable national defeat while tightening her own grip on pivotal Buenos Aires Province. The jury is still out there but the Wado-Manzur ticket would have been lucky to reach 15 percent (even if this could be seen as a good election to lose) while Kirchnerism is looking bolstered in Buenos Aires Province with over two–thirds of the top slots on the Congress list headed by Máximo Kirchner – even when conceding to President Alberto Fernández the presence of his ministers Victoria Tolosa Paz (Social Development) and Santiago Cafiero (Foreign Relations) in return for dumping Scioli – and even more on the City list, also at Massa’s expense. Governor Axel Kicillof’s re-election bid has been confirmed in Buenos Aires Province where he remains frontrunner, even if falling short of 30 percent with double the disapproval.

Presented by the veep as her Plan C (and not C for Cristina), Massa could thus be viewed as a new Alberto Fernández with the real power lying elsewhere. But if this was the crafty plan, why the messy fiasco of the non-starter Wado ticket as a hiding to nothing?

It remains to be seen how Massa handles his dual role of economic czar and presidential candidate with the former pushing him to slash the fiscal deficit and the latter to spend more. But at least the markets were reassured by his nomination ruling out any future government left of centre.

Sunday saw two provincial elections, both incumbent wins but with contrasting percentages of almost 70 and two percent for the national government’s gubernatorial candidate and majorities of 49.7 and three percent for the winner. 

Córdoba produced new wine in an old bottle, maintaining the continuity of 24 years of Peronist rule under the late José Manuel de la Sota and Schiaretti with a new face – Córdoba City Mayor Martín Llaryora (42.8 percent) edged PRO Senator Luis Juez (39.8 percent) representing Juntos por el Cambio who was ahead during the first four hours of election night and had yet to concede when this column was written. Llaryora’s slim lead contrasts with Schiaretti’s 2019 majority of almost 40 percent against a divided Radical opposition. 

Third place in a polarised race went to a blank vote of 4.9 percent in a low turnout of 68.3 percent rather than any of the nine other gubernatorial candidates. This was followed by a local independent party (Encuentro Vecinal Córdoba) under Aurelio García Elorrio with three percent, the libertarian La Libertad Avanza (Agustín Spacessi) with 2.5 percent, Liliana Olivero of the leftist Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores on 2.4 percent and Federico Alessandri of the Kirchnerite Creo en Córdoba in a humiliating sixth place with 2.2 percent and just one of the 70 legislators (of whom Juntos por el Cambio won 34 as against 32 for the Peronists, thus pointing to ballot-splitting at the expense of Juez). Five other gubernatorial candidates failed to reach even one percent. Llaryora will be succeeded in City Hall by Daniel Passerini, who won the provincial capital with considerably more comfort.

In Formosa Peronist Governor Gildo Insfrán, 72, was re-elected to a record eighth term, falling just short of his 2019 70-plus percent with 69.9 percent but his margin was bigger than ever thanks to a divided opposition. Radical deputy Fernando Carbajal, lining most opposition parties up with Juntos por el Cambio in a Frente Amplio Formoseño, polled 20.2 percent while rancher Francisco Paoltroni, running as Libertad, Trabajo y Progreso (a brand-new rural party strong in western Formosa and identifying nationwide with Milei) notched 9.5 percent with just 0.35 percent for the Trotskyist Partido Obrero in a high turnout of 75 percent. Apart from the votes lost to Paoltroni, Carbajal, a Rodriguez Larreta backer, complained of a lack of effort on the part of local Radicals supporting Bullrich.

That rivalry for the presidential nomination within PRO not only reached remote Formosa but permeated last Saturday’s closure of candidacies nationwide on the Juntos por el Cambio side. If the constituency overlap with Massa hurts Rodríguez Larreta, he arguably regains some ground with the selection of running-mates – while outgoing Jujuy Radical Governor Gerardo Morales fresh from confronting violent militants lends the City Mayor some hawkish image hitherto lacking, Bullrich made a somewhat quirky personal rather than strategic choice with the Mendoza Radical ex-deputy Luis Petri. Neurosurgeon Facundo Manes backing down at the last minute from his insistence on a Radical alternative to the two PRO rivals due to lack of support also helps Rodríguez Larreta.

In Buenos Aires Province, Rodríguez Larreta’s gubernatorial ticket will be his former deputy mayor Diego Santilli and San Isidro Mayor Gustavo Posse versus Bullrich’s duo of mayors Néstor Grindetti (Lanús) and Miguel Fernández (Trenque Lauquen). The leading senatorial candidates for Bullrich and Rodríguez Larreta to face Wado de Pedro (his consolation prize) will be respectively Radical provincial party chairman Maximiliano Abad and libertarian deputy José Luis Espert with PRO deputy Cristian Ritondo and Peronist Republican leader Miguel Angel Pichetto their Congress counterparts.

Unlike in Buenos Aires Province, there will only be one PRO mayoral candidate – Jorge Macri – in the City but he will be challenged by Radical Senator Martín Lousteau for the right to represent Juntos por el Cambio against the Unión por la Patria’s Leandro Santoro. Bullrich and Rodríguez Larreta will, however, be presenting rival lists for Congress (both topped by a Maximiliano, the former ballet dancer Guerra and Civic Coalition chairman Ferraro respectively) and also for the City legislature. Meanwhile, Coalición Civica founder Elisa Carrió has been sidelined to Parlasur.

Turning to the libertarians, both their presidential ticket (Milei and fellow-deputy Victoria Villaruel) and mayoral candidate (Ramiro Marra) have been in place for a month or so with the main surprise the last-minute choice of deputy Carolina Píparo (who became famous as a mugging victim) as Buenos Aires Province gubernatorial candidate. At legislative level all Milei’s lists are headed by economist colleagues like Diana Mondino in this city.

Space is lacking for the remaining seven of the dozen presidential bids. The most important is Hacemos por Nuestro País featuring a non-Kirchnerite Peronist presidential ticket of Schiaretti and ex-minister Florencio Randazzo. The Frente de Izquierda y los Trabajadores-Unidad (FIT-U) have failed to live up to their name – split within (deputies Myriam Bregman and Nicolás del Caño versus Trotskyist Gabriel Solano and Vilma Ripoll) with two more lists beyond, Nuevo MAS (Manuela Castañeira and Lucas Ruiz) and Política Obrera (Marcelo Ramal and Patricia Urones). Principios y Valores is a fringe Peronist grouping headed by former Domestic Trade secretary Guillermo Moreno (running-mate Leonardo Fabré) with picket leader Luis d’Elía as Buenos Aires gubernatorial candidate while the progressive Libres del Sur (Jesús Escobar and Marianella Lezama Hid) complete the list.

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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