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Elections 2019

Meet the Candidates: Argentina

The surprise candidacy of Alberto Fernández has shaken up a relatively predictable race.
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Argentina | Bolivia | Guatemala | Panama | Uruguay | Full List

This piece was updated on May 21. See above for a breakdown of Latin America's other 2019 transitions, and check back here for updates throughout the region's busy election season. Click here to read more about Argentina's presidential race


Election Date: Oct. 27

Format: Two rounds. If no candidate receives at least 45% of the votes in the first round, or 40% with a 10-point lead over second place, the two leading candidates will compete in a runoff on Nov. 24. 


Mauricio Macri, 60, president
Let's Change

“Real change requires going through difficulties.”

How he got here: A well-connected businessman who served two terms as Buenos Aires’ mayor, Macri made history in 2015 as the first president in a century elected from outside Argentina’s historically dominant political movements, the Peronists and Radicals. Pro-business pragmatism and commitment to fiscal integrity helped Macri’s coalition win big in midterm elections, but a currency crisis in 2018 dashed any certainty over his reelection. Some attribute the downturn to Macri’s insistence on “gradualism”—his strategy for avoiding the pain of overly harsh reforms.

Why he might win: Macri benefits from a divided opposition, whose chief forces are the movement led by former president and now vice presidential candidate Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and a coalition of Peronists who are critical of her. He could benefit if voters see Kirchner's vice presidential bid as an attempt to gain the power, if not the office, of the presidency.   

Why he might lose: Macri’s efforts to fix the macroeconomic distortions he inherited have floundered. Inflation was worse in 2018 than it ever was under Kirchner. Centrist voters may opt for Alberto Fernández, whose candidacy deprives Macri of the advantage of going up against a divisive figure like Kirchner. 

Who supports him: Business, the agricultural sector and some unions. Middle class and poor voters who have benefited from his public works spending as well as subsidies he has introduced.

What he would do: Macri will run on corruption and security. But if re-elected, he’ll need to decisively shore up Argentina’s fiscal situation. He’s the candidate most likely to attempt a politically difficult reform of Argentina’s pension system.

Ideology:

NOTE: AQ asked a dozen nonpartisan experts on Latin America to help us identify where each candidate stands on two spectrums: left wing versus right wing, and nationalist versus globalist. We’ve published the average response, with a caveat: Platforms evolve, and so do candidates.


Alberto Fernández, 60, former cabinet chief
Citizen Unity

"Part of the challenge is being better than we were before because there were things we did wrong. But being better than Macri won't take a big effort.”

How he got here: The surprise candidate of the campaign, Fernández was thrust into the limelight when Cristina Kirchner abandoned her own presidential hopes and decided to be his running mate instead. Previously Fernández was best known for being cabinet chief for her husband, the late President Néstor Kirchner. He stayed on after Cristina succeeded him in 2007, but left less than a year later after disagreeing with her decision to increase export taxes on farmers. He became an often fierce critic of Kirchner in recent years, calling hers a “bad government” - one reason her decision was such a surprise. Fernández has only run for public office once before, for a seat in the Buenos Aires legislature.

Why he might win: Fernández is less polarizing than Kirchner, and is one of her movement’s more pragmatic figures. He may draw votes from members of the Peronist Party who were unwilling to vote for her. A clear majority of Argentine voters are frustrated with Macri and the economy; if he can capture enough of them, he can win.

Why he might lose: Voters may conclude that Fernández is just a Kirchner puppet, and not really independent. If that happens, he will be just as polarizing a candidate as she would have been. As bad as the economy is now, many also have bad memories of currency controls, corruption and constant drama during Kirchner’s 2007-15 presidency.

Who supports him: Fernández doesn’t have a base of his own. Rather, he’ll benefit from Kirchner’s loyal following of working-class voters in greater Buenos Aires, in addition to some Peronists who have broken with her. 

What he would do: For now, it’s not entirely clear. He is somewhat more pragmatic than Kirchner, and he’s shown his independence from her in the past, suggesting a pivot closer to the center-left. Since Kirchner announced his candidacy, he’s restated Argentina’s commitments to pay its international debts. However, he has also been a very vocal critic on the IMF and “neoliberal” policies, and more hard-line figures in Kirchner’s movement - including former finance minister Axel Kicilof - will likely still hold sway in his government.

Ideology:


 

Roberto Lavagna, 77, former economy minister
Federal Alternative

“There is a strong demand for getting away from what Macri and Cristina are offering: a deep divide without the slightest dialogue.”

How he got here: Lavagna took the helm of Néstor Kirchner’s economy ministry in 2002 at the height of Argentina’s worst-ever crisis. The economy recovered under his supervision, though a spike in soy prices didn’t hurt. He was fired in 2005 and two years later ran against Cristina Kirchner in her first run for the presidency, finishing third.

Why he might win: Many consider Lavagna an elder statesman above partisan politics. His tenure as economy minister instilled confidence in many, as did his willingness to call out corruption in Néstor Kirchner’s government — which he said lost him his job. 

Why he might lose: Lavagna has already lost one presidential election, and this time around he has shown a reluctance to campaign. He said it’s because he wants to be a consensus candidate among anti-Kirchner Peronists, but some attribute it to his age. He lacks charisma, but his biggest challenge will be unifying a divided opposition that ambitious, younger candidates like Juan Manuel Urtubey and Sergio Massa are also coveting.

Who supports him: Peronists who are turned off by Kirchner and want a return to the perceived good old days of the mid-2000s commodities boom.

What he would do: While he’s said he’d renegotiate the IMF deal, investors are optimistic about his relationship with the fund. More on the Keynesian side, Lavagna might increase salaries and the minimum wage, but shy away from more aggressive reforms.

Ideology: 

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Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated Néstor’s election year as 2013 instead of 2003.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Argentina, Elections 2019, CFK, Macri, Argentina Elections 2019

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