Alex Sadler, JHU:
Argentina is not new to political uncertainty. The soccer-crazed, meat-loving country has faced countless military coups and has historically fluctuated between populism and right-wing dictatorship. Today, democratically stable Argentina meets a different challenge. With a troubling economy and a polarizing president, Argentina faces a presidential election next month. Daniel Scioli, current governor of Buenos Aires and President Cristina Kirchner’s handpicked successor leads the polls as the campaign enters the last 30 days. The latest polls has Scioli 2 points from breaking the 40 percent threshold that would lead to an outright victory in October instead of leading to a December runoff election.
Despite Scioli’s popularity in the polls, many Argentinians remain skeptical of Scioli’s intentions. Some speculate that Scioli will merely be a puppet with the strings pulled by Kirchner. A recent New York Times article highlights Scioli’s position changes as merely acquiescing to the wishes of President Kirchner. Scioli shifted away from his business friendly views to secure Mrs. Kirchner’s endorsement last spring. While some label Scioli negatively for following many of President Kirchner’s viewpoints, others are looking forward to the progression of “Kirchernismo.” The president of the highly active human rights group Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Estela Barnes de Carlotto had this to say about Scioli, “I think Scioli will continue the project of Cristina, which is what we have always wanted. He is a faithful man, a different man, and a good man. He may also serve as a good transition as we await the return of transition.” Although a President cannot serve more than two consecutive terms in Argentina, there is no limit on total terms that can be served. Many Argentinians think that the next President will merely serve as a placeholder to await the return of President Kirchner.
As the upcoming October 4th debate looms, Mauricio Macri, second in the polls and Mayor of Buenos Aires, and Sergio Massa, Mayor of Tigre, have pledged to attend while frontrunner Scioli has yet to confirm his presence. Speaking on Scioli’s hesitance, Mr. Massa stated that Scioli has yet to confirm because “[Scioli] is afraid that Cristina [Kirchner] will punish him.” Scioli, always quick to respond, stated that he did not believe debating was necessary as he has been open about his platforms and ideologies and would much rather spend his time talking to the people around the country than politicians in Buenos Aires. In an interview with Argentinian radio station Radio Mitre, Mr. Macri said that not having Scioli at the debate will be strange and “not what Argentinians expect.” Political scientist Julio Bárbaro claims that Scioli is not debating because he knows he will not win. “To me, this will negatively affect his image and he will take a hit in the polls.”
While many are quick to call out Scioli for his blind faith to Cristina, Scioli himself has employed a campaign strategy of building on the accomplishments left by his predecessor. “We are going to continue building on what has already been built”, said Scioli in a recent press conference unrolling his education platform. “Our needs change as the country progresses. Argentina needed the Universal Child Allowance for all of our children to attend school… And now we need to enhance the quality of education in our schools. That is development.”
The October 25th elections have many Argentinians eager about having a president without the last name Kirchner for the first time in 12 years. While most political pundits expect a Scioli victory, some caution that without an outright majority victory in October, a December runoff will put Scioli in a precarious position. A December runoff – likely between Scioli and Macri – would leave Massa supporters in a powerful position as their swing votes could leverage enough power to choose the next president. We are now less than one month from the presidential elections and while there is a clear-cut front-runner, uncertainty remains. Will Scioli be a Kirchner-controlled president? Can Macri garner enough Massa supporters to pull off a huge upset? If we have learned anything from Argentina’s colorful history it is this: Expect the unexpected.