The roughly 32 million Argentine voters that were called to the ballots in Sunday’s presidential election decided that for the first time in history there will be a second round to determine the new head of government. Former motor-boat racer Daniel Scioli, the candidate fielded by the Kirchner camp and current governor of Argentina’s most populous province, was unable to avoid a runoff in November.
Scioli’s rival Mauricio Macri, a businessman/football club president turned politician (pretty common in South America), earned an astonishing 34.5 percent of the vote, only losing by a slim margin to Kirchner’s boy who won 36.6 percent.
In order to win outright, a candidate must claim more than 45 percent of the vote, or at least 40 percent with a margin of 10 points. Nothing less was expected of Mr. Scioli.
Thus, yesterday’s outcome can be considered a landslide in the country’s recent history as the political stronghold the leftist Kirchner camp managed to build around their “flexible” political philosophy during their 13-year reign almost fell.
“Between two ferns” à la Argentina
Although seen as an opportunist, Mr. Scioli has vowed to defend the core of “Kirchnerism”, an aggressively populist creed based on trade protectionism, social welfare and defence of the working classes. He is a protégé of former president Carlos Menem, whose name is used as a curse by many Argentines after he ruined the country with his conservative economic policy in the 1990s.
Mr. Macri from the centre-right/neoliberal Cambiemos (“Let’s Change”) bloc, on the other hand, follows a clear business-friendly approach, willing to dismantle capital controls and trade restrictions on his first day as president. As mayor of Buenos Aires he focused on improving middle and upper-class neighbourhoods by opening new parks and painting yellow (his party’s campaign colour) bicycle lanes on the streets. Rumour has it he never actually visited the poorer parts of the capital.
In the face of enormous economic and social challenges, both candidates seem unfit to govern the nation into a prosperous future.
Argentina prefers sports over politics
In a nation gripped by rugby fever, many say they are much prouder about the rugby team than the political class (Argentina lost to Australia in a gutsy display of courage and determination).
Argentine politics is a game focused solely on the short-term. A new president usually performs a 180-degree turnaround in several policy fields, leaving the country with close to none political continuity. Unfortunately, voters have little regard for the long-term either.
On November 22 Argentines have once more the choice between two candidates that play their own game.