Light at the end of the tunnel in Argentina

Dec. 10 will mark the end of the 12-and-a-half-year-long Kirchner era in Argentina. The country’s next president will almost without question be more supportive of free enterprise and private investment, have a greater respect for the rule of law — both domestic and international — and pursue a more centrist and pragmatic foreign policy than President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (who succeeded her husband, Néstor Kirchner, in 2007).

{mosads}One of three men will succeed Fernández de Kirchner: city of Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, National Deputy Sergio Massa or province of Buenos Aires Gov. Daniel Scioli. Scioli and Massa belong to Argentina’s large Peronist movement. Scioli is the standard-bearer of the movement’s pro-government wing led by the term-limited Fernández de Kirchner, while Massa is the informal leader of the opposition wing. Macri is the only viable non-Peronist candidate, and last month cemented an alliance with the Radical Civic Union (UCR), which for almost 70 years has represented the political counterweight to Peronism.

If elected, each of the three candidates would reduce the degree of unilateral and opaque government intervention of the Argentine economy, exhibit greater respect for the rule of law and improve Argentina’s frayed bilateral ties with a host of nations ranging from Spain and Germany in Europe to Brazil and the United States in the Americas. Thus, regardless of who wins, we can expect Argentina to move toward the more pragmatic and market-friendly social-democratic models of neighboring Brazil, Chile and Uruguay and away from the contrary model represented by present-day Argentina. That said, there are differences among the candidates in terms of the degree to which they would diverge from the current model of government.

Of the three, Scioli is the candidate of continuity, with Argentine policies expected to change the least from the current status quo under a Scioli presidency. Macri, in contrast, is the candidate of change, potentially representing the most dramatic break from the status quo (with a caveat discussed below).

On one hand, Massa is the Goldilocks candidate, promising a sharper shift toward the Brazil/Chile/Uruguay model than offered by Scioli, but not as great as that offered by Macri. On the other hand, Massa could arguably be the candidate capable of delivering the most robust reform.

If Macri is elected president, his electoral alliance would hold only about one-third of the seats (most belonging to the UCR) in both the Argentine Chamber and Senate and run no more than two-fifths of the country’s provinces. Argentina has no experience with successful coalition government, and it is possible that as president, Macri could find himself very constrained in terms of the actual implementation of his desired reforms. In contrast, if Massa is elected president, an overwhelming majority of Peronists would in all likelihood, in line with the movement’s strong vertical leadership tradition, fall in behind Massa as their new boss. As the undisputed head of a party with substantial congressional majorities and control of more than half of the provincial governorships, a President Massa would quite possibly be better positioned than a President Macri to effect the most transformative policy change, since while his proposals would on average be more modest in scope, their prospects for actual implementation would be higher.

The presidential election takes place on Oct. 25. It is expected today that no candidate will win enough votes to avoid a runoff on Nov. 22. Recent polls have Scioli (35 percent) narrowly ahead of Macri (30 percent), with Massa (25 percent) in third place, but well within striking distance.

As the bridge between continuity and change, Massa would be favored in a runoff against either Scioli or Macri, but to earn one of the two golden tickets to the dance on Nov. 22, he will need to vault ahead of at least one of his rivals between now and the end of October. With the election six months away, it is not possible to proffer a prediction of the outcome of a hypothetical Macri-Scioli faceoff. There are too many unknown factors, including future campaign dynamics, the state of the economy in November and post-first round actions by Fernández de Kirchner and Massa, which could potentially tilt the outcome in either candidate’s favor.

Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s fellow in Political Science and Argentina Program director, the Joseph D. Jamail chair in Latin American studies and the chair of the Department of Political Science at Rice University.

Tags Argentina Buenos Aires Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Daniel Scioli Mauricio Macri Néstor Kirchner Sergio Massa

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