ARGENTINA: Gearing Up for the Presidential Race

  • by Marcela Valente (buenos aires)
  • Tuesday, June 30, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

Argentine Vice President Julio Cobos, who is now opposed to President Fernández, as well as provincial governers and former governors who did well in the contest, have taken up starting positions for the presidential race due in just over two years' time. In Sunday's ballot to renew half the seats in the lower house of Congress and one-third of the Senate seats, the government lost their majority in both chambers.

Although on this occasion the vote for her political sector was 13 percentage points lower than in the 2007 general elections, both the president and her husband and predecessor, former president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), are eligible by law to stand for a second term in 2011.

The ruling Victory Front, a centre-left grouping within the Justicialista (Peronist) Party (PJ) founded and headed by Kirchner and Fernández, lost ground in key districts, including the province of Buenos Aires, the most populous in the country, where the Front played its top card with Kirchner as its leading candidate for a seat in the lower house of Congress.

As a result of the defeat, which was downplayed by Fernández on Monday, Kirchner resigned as leader of the governing PJ.

'Anything is still possible: (Fernández) is only half way through her term,' political scientist Marcelo Escolar, of the state National University of San Martín, told IPS. He mentioned, as an example, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, whose popularity declined over a transport crisis but later rebounded to greater heights.

Nevertheless, Escolar said it was 'unlikely' that President Fernández or her husband would run for reelection. 'We have an open-ended situation and we'll have to wait and see what decision they make,' he said. In his view, Sunday's results produced no clear winners, either.

Although there is no legal bar to Argentina's first couple continuing in power, many analysts are now predicting the end of the Kirchner era that began in May 2003, above all because they see it as unlikely that the Kirchners will adapt to an administration style that, given the new composition of parliament, will have to seek consensus and compromise.

Political analyst Rosendo Fraga, head of the Nueva Mayoría think tank, told IPS that if Sunday's vote is taken as an indication of the future presidential elections, the result 'put paid to the chances of the Kirchner sector fielding a winning candidate in 2011.'

During his term as president, Kirchner designated his wife – a senator at the time - as the candidate to succeed him, but that level of power enjoyed by the Kirchners evaporated on Sunday.

'The governing faction did not only lose the decisive province of Buenos Aires. It came fourth in the city of Buenos Aires and in the province of Córdoba; third in Santa Fe; and was defeated in Mendoza, Entre Ríos, and even in Santa Cruz, the Kirchners' home province,' Fraga said, naming the most populous provinces of Argentina.

But this reverse, he added, 'does not necessarily imply that the Justicialista Party cannot win the next presidential elections.' He pointed out that in Santa Fe the winner was Senator Carlos Reutemann, a member of the PJ who has distanced himself from the Kirchners.

Reutemann, a former governor of Santa Fe, is internationally known for his past success as a Formula 1 racing driver. He was elected senator with 42.2 percent of the vote, in a slender victory over his rival, socialist Senator Rubén Giustiniani, the heir-apparent of socialist Governor Hermes Binner, who is also a presidential hopeful for the centre-left opposition.

Giustiniani garnered 40.5 percent of the vote. Analysts say such a narrow defeat does not necessarily put Binner out of the presidential race.

In contrast, Buenos Aires provincial Governor Daniel Scioli, the new leader of the PJ, 'has been weakened,' Escolar said. Scioli was second on the Victory Front's list of candidates for the lower house of Congress for the province, after Kirchner.

The winner in Buenos Aires province was business tycoon Francisco de Narváez, a centre-right congressman and anti-Kirchner dissident of the PJ. His triumph over Kirchner was a major political event, but he was born in Colombia and so cannot run for president, a post the constitution reserves for Argentine-born citizens.

However, another leading businessman in the centre-right alliance that supported de Narváez, city of Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, emerged as a possible candidate at the head of this new opposition coalition, in spite of his influence being restricted to the capital city and the province of Buenos Aires.

Among the rest of the opposition there is also a wide range of presidential hopefuls. Vice President Julio Cobos, who became an opponent of Kirchnerism in 2008, 'is in pole position' for the race in 2011, Escolar said.

Cobos, formerly governor of the western province of Mendoza, was a member of the opposition Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) when he became Fernández's ally and running mate in 2007. Enmity arose between the president and himself in 2008, during the stand-off between the government and farmers' associations over export taxes, when he cast a deciding vote in support of agribusiness.

The vice president did not resign, but backed UCR candidate Ernesto Sanz for the Senate seat for Mendoza. Sanz won with 50 percent of the vote, compared to half that for his governing party rival.

Cobos is eyeing the presidential nomination for the Civic and Social Accord (ACS), an alliance between the UCR, the Socialists and the Civic Coalition, which garnered only one percentage point less than the ruling party in the popular vote nationwide. However, he is willing to compete for the ticket in open primaries in order to ensure consensus.

The Civic Coalition, an important part of the Accord, is led by former congresswoman Elisa Carrió, who came in second behind Fernández in the 2007 presidential elections.

But Carrió was one of the big losers in Sunday's elections, and her bid for the presidency may have been cut short.

More concerned with strengthening her coalition at the national level, she neglected the city of Buenos Aires, where she had most support. She was third on the capital city list of candidates for the lower house, which was headed by economist Alfonso Prat. According to some of her political associates, this caused her coalition to come in third in the capital.

Others, in contrast, say that voters rejected her confrontational style, as Carrió is fonder of complaints and criticisms than of positive proposals. The same antagonistic approach is invoked by analysts to explain voters' rejection of Kirchner and his wife, President Fernández.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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