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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 28-05-2022 00:54

‘Unsalted eggs’ and Rodríguez Larreta’s fight against everyone (including Milei) for 2023

Given Argentina’s particular electoral system, we have a three-round bout ahead of us.

If the presidential election was today, who would you vote for? According to a freshly released opinion poll put together by the political consultancy firm Synopsis, the opposition Juntos por el Cambio alliance would come out on top, followed by the ruling Frente de Todos coalition just barely ahead of the “liberals” headed by eccentric economist Javier Milei. Of course, it’s too early to take these numbers as anything other than a first little taste of where the electorate is going, but it does show that the lay of the land has changed: it’s no longer a battle between two coalitions, a pan-Peronist-Kirchnerite group and another “centre-right” anti-Peronist group. The emergence of a third, apparently competitive, sector that attracts voters primarily from Juntos por el Cambio suggests margins could be thin and any of these sectors could pull a surprise win out of the proverbial hat, at least in the first round. And given Argentina’s particular electoral system, we have a three-round bout ahead of us, adding the added spice of uncertainty and suspense with the famous ballotage or runoff. Can Milei take out Alberto Fernández and Horacio Rodríguez Larreta? What will Mauricio Macri and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner do? It’s all up in the air.

Digging a little deeper into the numbers, the poll suggests Juntos por el Cambio would take 34.6 percent of the vote – more than 10 percentage points ahead of the ruling Frente de Todos (23.4 percent). Their advantage over Milei is just above the margin of error, with the libertarian taking 19.1 percent of the vote, while the safety margin was calculated at 2.7 percent. To round off the figures, the left would take 5.1 percent, “others” clocked in at 5.5 percent and a substantial 12.3 percent remain undecided.

These types of figures have already forced reconfigurations in both coalitions. Within Juntos por el Cambio they have identified the Milei voter as someone who would have easily picked them, particularly if the candidate were someone like Patricia Bullrich or even Macri himself. Indeed, some 43.2 percent of those who suggested they would vote for Milei acknowledge they would most likely change their vote if it was the way to defeat Kirchnerism. Another 29 percent said they would probably change their vote under those circumstances. This has fuelled Macri’s own ambitions, as he’s increased his public appearances and suggested in private that he will compete in the PASO primaries next year. Thus, his main opponent becomes his protégé, Rodríguez Larreta, who understands politics under a completely different light. While the Buenos Aires City mayor is looking to construct a mega-majority of some 70 percent of the political representation in order to put in place a series of structural reforms that would require the seduction of important sectors under Peronist banners, Milei and even Macri/Bullrich would rather see them burn in some sort of cataclysm before the end of the Fernández-Fernández term. “Piece of shit leftist you know I can crush you,” Milei said in an interview last year speaking about Rodríguez Larreta, who this year institutionalised a veto to reaching an agreement with the liberal economist from their coalition. Macri and Milei have recently been flirting on mass media.

The City mayor has been forced to step up his game, despite not admitting he has thrown his hat in the ring. He’s been doing the rounds and private meetings with the “círculo rojo” (Argentina’s group of influential decision-makers). His argument is that there is no time to lose, that the next president will have 100 hours to lay out his plan for the next four years (not the usual 100 days), and that his plan includes a provisional and labour reform. He’s also said he would never reach an agreement with Alberto Fernández, whom “we don’t respect and we will never respect, the [situation] is irreversible.” While there can be no doubts of his capacity to run an effective public administration, Rodríguez Larreta is “an egg without salt,” meaning that he lacks charisma, which can be the determining factor in an election. Clearly one of the candidates with the highest levels of experience in the run for 2023, he could be surprised by an outsider, like Milei, if he’s forced on the ring. Kind of like when Hillary Clinton, the most prepared candidate the Democrats had for the US presidency, lost to Donald Trump, a laughing-stock for most “serious” strategists and ultimately a great success for the Republican party.

Those close to Rodríguez Larreta they suggest that Milei will deflate, which sounds more like an expression of will than what the numbers are showing today. According to Synopsis director Lucas Romero, speaking to Clarín, the emergence of Milei has put Juntos por el Cambio in a comfortable centrist position. And while the current distribution of potential votes has fed polarisation, giving the Mileis of Argentina a platform to attack their rivals, it puts a ceiling on their potential given a preference for ousting the Peronists of his potential voters.

Within Frente de Todos, the “thing everyone is talking about” is the Civil War between Alberto and Cristina. It would seem like the vice-president is already paving the way to sever her connection with the Fernández administration and its multiple failures. Fernández de Kirchner has already split the official bloc in the Senate, while Domestic Trade Secretary Roberto Feletti — in charge of “pricing” policies — quit after his unit was transferred from the Productive Development Ministry run by Matías Kulfas to the Economy Ministry headed by Martín Guzmán, Kirchnerism’s favourite antagonist. Máximo Kirchner, who had already quit as caucus leader in the Chamber of Deputies, has become the government’s main critic. Yet, neither Cristina nor Alberto seem prepared for a full break of the coalition. They raise the heat on each other but stop right at the edge of the precipice, probably understanding that they still need each other. Cristina needs to clock in some sort of a win for her and Máximo to stay safe, while Alberto does think he’s got a chance of re-election. Breaking Frente de Todos would further harm their chances. Máximo, who by transitive property receives her mother’s negative image but not the good part, could be looking to succeed Aunt Alicia Kirchner in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz. And what about Cristina? She would probably win the PASO primaries but it is difficult to imagine a victory against Juntos por el Cambio given the elevated level of her negative image —the same situation faced by Macri. The expectation is that she will run for the top Senate seat in the Buenos Aires Province and pick a proxy candidate such as Jorge Capitanich to compete against Alberto.

Thus, the ecosystem is currently in flux. From the two large coalitions we find ourselves with three competitive sectors. Even though Milei and the libertarians are “stealing” votes from Juntos por el Cambio, the opposition coalition appears best positioned to win in 2023, and Rodríguez Larreta is the most prepared candidate. But his lack of charisma could make the campaign an uphill battle, particularly if he faces off with Milei. In the government, Alberto thinks he can win back the trust of the people but more pragmatically, Cristina appears to be organising her next steps to remain in power. Everything could change tomorrow.

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Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia

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