Daniel Scioli, candidate closest to the outgoing Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, is leading the polls. But whoever wins, the future of the country is a wide-open question.
BUENOS AIRES — In contrast with her fellow Latin American friends and allies — presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Bolivia"s Evo Morales, Nicaragua"s Daniel Ortega — Cristina Fernández de Kirchner cannot immediately run for another presidential term. And without the "less-than-democratic" mechanisms those leaders use to hold onto power, there is no assurance her preferred candidate will win the upcoming election in Argentina to succeed her.
As it happens, the ruling party's candidate, Daniel Scioli, is nonetheless leading the polls, even if he was only reluctantly accepted as the candidate of the Victory Front — a coalition backing the Peronists or Justicialists, who include Kirchner's most radical supporters and close family members with their own political ambitions. Peronism is a political movement that aims to carry on the legacy of former Argentine leaders Juan Domingo and Eva Peron, mixing social justice and state paternalism.
What is not known is whether Scioli will win outright in the first round (needing 45% of votes or just over 40% but being 10 points ahead of the runner-up) or if he will have to contend in a second round.
He already reportedly has the support of Pope Francis, whose "Peronist" tendencies are practically a certainty and who has made no secret of his personal inclination in favor of Kirchner. As the Argentine historian Juan José Sebreli observed in Spain's El País, "the Pope is now backing Scioli." The historian qualified the candidate as an "obedient man" whom the Kirchner coterie had "turned into a rag." Would that be to clean up after them?
A second-round victory over Scioli by the center-right candidate Mauricio Macri, who is currently second in the pre-election polls, seems a tall order. For he would not be able to count on the votes of supporters of another of the candidates, Sergio Massa, the "dissident" Peronist.
Cristina Kirchner and Daniel Scioli back in 2013 — Photo: Patricio Murphy/ZUMA
Massa, a disciple of former free-market President Carlos Menem in the 1990s, could do better in a second round, able to count on Macri's votes. His challenge is to qualify for the head-to-head, since he is currently third in the polls.
Meanwhile, amid the jockeying of candidates, ordinary Argentines are anxious about what will come after the elections, and economic indicators show serious uncertainty from the business community. As they say in the badlands of Río de la Plata, best to "unsaddle" until the dust settles ...
The three main candidates have vowed not to devalue the peso — something the business sector and exporters in particular have been asking for. Wine producers insist it is the only way to inject some life into the economy. Some economists have observed that a devaluation would help balance the budget and reduce expenditures consisting in large part of excess subsidies and electoral "donations."
Devaluation would be the beginning of change: breaking with the past, starting to make Kirchner pay for her policies — and effectively destroying her legacy.
That would not be easy for Scioli, but not impossible either. He is in any case less likely to approach his presidency as a means to continue the Kirchner "regime," in spite of many efforts by her supporters to surround and contain him.
It is even less likely that Scioli will devote himself to "safekeeping" Cristina K"s presidential seat, so she could return in the 2019 elections, as some analysts suggest, and as her diehard supporters no doubt hope.
Scioli, maintaining his typical "casual" style, will act in line with his own interests, which would logically include his own reelection.
So if he does indeed win, he will not be attacking Cristina, but instead will try and quietly distance himself from her, govern well and avoid clashes with allies and opponents alike. In the end, he would govern according to his own criteria. No, it seems, his harshest critics are wrong: Daniel Scioli is nobody's rag.