Argentines have spoken: Macri will be a one-term president

Argentines have spoken: Macri will be a one-term president
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Argentina held its unique brand of primaries on Aug. 11, the PASO: Obligatory, Simultaneous, Open Primaries.  In this year’s PASO all 10 presidential candidates competed on the same day in primaries. Participation by voters was compulsory and each presidential candidate was the only one from their alliance or party.  The PASO serve as an invaluable electoral census in a country where there exists little confidence in opinion polls (with good reason), revealing the true level of support for each presidential ticket. 

The PASO results suggest that barring a miraculous St. Louis Blues style comeback by President Mauricio Macri between now and Oct. 27, the presidential ticket of Alberto Fernández and his vice-presidential running mate, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015), will win the Argentine presidential election on Oct. 27, without the need to go to a second-round runoff.  In Argentina, a presidential ticket can win in the first round by finishing first with more than 45 percent of the vote, and the PASO results suggest the Fernández-Fernández ticket should have little trouble crossing that 45 percent threshold 11 weeks from now on Oct. 27. 

With 98.7 percent of precincts reporting, the Fernández-Fernández ticket won 49.7 percent of the valid vote to 33.5 percent for Macri, with this 16 percentage point gap double or triple that predicted by all public opinion polls.  The centrist former minister of economy Roberto Lavagna finished a distant third with 8.6 percent, the far-left Nicolás del Caño 3 percent, and the center-right candidates Juan José Gómez Centurión and José Luis Espert garnered 2.8 percent and 2.3 percent respectively.  

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All six of these candidates crossed the 1.5 percent vote threshold needed to run in the Oct. 27 election.  Four other presidential candidates failed to surpass the 1.5 percent threshold and will not be on the ballot in October: the far-left Manuela Castañeira with 0.7 percent, the far-right Alejandro Biondini with 0.3 percent, the center-right Raúl Albarracín with 0.2 percent and the centrist Jose Antonio “Pocho” Romero Feris with 0.1 percent.

The Fernández-Fernández ticket defeated Macri in 22 of the country’s 24 provinces, with the City of Buenos Aires (Macri’s bailiwick) and Córdoba being the only districts where Macri was victorious. 

In the pivotal Province of Buenos Aires, where almost two out of every five Argentine voters reside, the Fernández-Fernández ticket bested Macri 52.4 percent to 30.9  percent, with Cristina Fernández’s gubernatorial candidate, Axel Kicillof, winning 52.5 percent of the vote to 34.7 percent for Macri’s candidate, Gov. María Eugenia Vidal.  Kicilloff and Vidal will also meet on Oct. 27, with the plurality winner, which is certain to be Kicilloff, becoming the next governor of the Province of Buenos Aires.

The overall PASO turnout was 75.8 percent, with turnout in October expected to increase to around 80 percent.  While past election results suggest these additional voters will more likely than not on average be moderately more pro-Macri than those who voted on Aug.11, their participation alone will not be enough to pull the Fernández-Fernández ticket down below 45 percent in order to force a second-round runoff. 

The Aug.11 election results can be best read as a negative evaluation by two out of three Argentines of the Macri administration’s policies and performance over the past four years.  In rejecting Macri, Argentines have explicitly, or at least implicitly, opted for the model of government and public policies of Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.  What is unclear at the present time is however exactly what this model of government will look like and what the new administration’s public policy agenda will be.

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Recall that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner handpicked Alberto Fernández as her presidential candidate and herself as his vice-presidential candidate after she concluded in May that she was too polarizing a figure to win as the presidential candidate, and believed that she needed the more moderating presence of Alberto Fernández at the top of the ticket in order to defeat Macri.  

Optimists claim Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has learned from the errors of her past ways and repented, and further claim that in any event it will be the more moderate and market-friendly Alberto Fernández who will hold the reins of power, not Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. 

Realists posit that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner believes that to avoid an economic crisis she will need to moderate some of her past authoritarian and anti-free market behavior, and that Alberto Fernández, while not holding the reins of power, will play an important role in the day-to-day running of government.

Pessimists argue Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has not changed at all and will quickly revert to her old ways once in power, and do not believe that Alberto Fernández will have any power other than what Cristina Fernández de Kirchner delegates to him.

The truth probably lies somewhere between the visions of the realists and pessimists, but no one can know for sure.  Only time will tell who among the optimists, realists and pessimists is right, and who is wrong, about the shape, form and policies of the Fernández-Fernández administration that will be handed the reins of power by Macri later this year.

Mark P. Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s fellow in political science and the Joseph D. Jamail chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University as well as a co-author of “Texas Politics Today: 2017-2018 Edition.” Follow him @MarkPJonesTX.