Argentina: On the Threshold of Change

27/10/2015

Guillermo Hirschfeld, Coordinator of Latin American Programs, FAES Foundation

 

On November 22 the Argentines will be electing the president who will lead the country's destiny for the next four years in a thrilling runoff. The Argentine people will have to choose between the continuity of the Kirchner model embodied by the candidacy of Daniel Scioli, or the change alternative led by Mauricio Macri.

This is the first time that a runoff election will be held in Argentina. No survey had predicted that on Sunday the difference between the most voted candidate and the second would be less than three percentage points. However, the reality that finally materialized went against all polls which had predicted a comfortable advantage in favour of the government's candidate. The final results eventually gave Daniel Scioli 36.86% of the vote, while Mauricio Macri got 34.33%.

These figures represent a real upheaval for the current government and especially for their candidate, because they expected a greater number of votes and a wide advantage over the second candidate. On the other hand, there percentages give a powerful momentum to Mauricio Macri and his project, largely because of the psychological effect shed on society by the feeling that the way to change has started.

Given this situation, the support of Sergio Massa's electorate, who came out third with 21.34% of the vote, will be decisive for the final victory. If two out of three citizens who voted for Sergio Massa in the first round should choose Mauricio Macri in the second round, he would win the presidency without problems. It is, in principle, an achievable and even logical goal for Mauricio Macri, since the group of voters demanding a change of political direction seems to be the majority of Sergio Massa’s total voters.

Nevertheless, Mauricio Macri already scored an important victory on Sunday. Peronism lost the electoral battle in their main stronghold, the province of Buenos Aires, where they have been ruling since 1987 and which concentrates nothing more and nothing less than 37% of voters nationwide. María Eugenia Vidal, the candidate of Cambiemos, the party led by Mauricio Macri, won an epic victory on Sunday against Kirchner's candidate, Anibal Fernandez. For the first time, the largest district in the country will be led by a woman.

On the other hand, it seems that after the perplexity caused by the results, short circuits, reproaches and the settling of scores within Kirchner's ranks will not take long to arrive. In all likelihood, the ruling hardliners will charge against the candidate Daniel Scioli and his detachment from the official narrative, while the inner circle of the candidate will precisely target the diametrically opposite argument to explain these very unexpected results. The varying ferocity of that tension will determine the ability of a candidate beaten by a much worse result than expected to stand up again.

However, this is politics and, therefore, the stage remains open. In fact, Sunday's earthquake has managed to move a major tectonic piece in less than a day: given the result, Daniel Scioli said he is willing to debate before the second round, and Macri smoothly took up the gauntlet. It is great news: this is the first time that Argentina will have a face-to-face presidential debate. It is worth remembering that an overconfident Scioli decided not to participate in the first round's debate, leaving an empty stand on the stage.

Thirty-eight years ago I was born in a country that was going through a bloody dictatorship, without freedoms or political pluralism, at that time, there were only three democracies in Latin America. Today we can be proud, both the Argentines and most Latin Americans, of the fact that we can go to the polls and elect our leaders. Democracy, on Sunday, has been enriched with a competitive model where the alternative has demonstrated that it is capable of winning.

Many challenges and obstacles will have to be faced by the new government – a troubled economy, the loss of relevance in the international arena, the need to attract investment, growing insecurity and deficits in infrastructure – but less than a month separates us from the final decision of the Argentine people, which seems to be determined by the power of change.