On Sunday 33.8 million Argentines will decide if they still believe in populism

Latin America
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On Sunday 33.8 million Argentines will decide if they still believe in populism

Saturday, August 10th 2019 – 09:59 UTC

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Alberto Fernandez and Cristina Fernandez Alberto Fernandez and Cristina Fernandez
Mauricio Macri and Miguel Angel Picheto Mauricio Macri and Miguel Angel Picheto

Argentines are facing what is probably the tightest presidential race since the return of the country’s democracy in 1983 with conservative President Mauricio Macri facing an opposition ticket including ex-President Cristina Fernández, and the primary elections Sunday are expected to provide a hint of who might win October’s vote.

Party primaries are closely watched in Argentina because they are held simultaneously and voting is mandatory, so they are seen as referendum on candidates’ popularity, and effectively an early poll involving the entire electorate, with 33.841.837 Argentines registered to vote.

Luis Tonelli, a political science professor at the University of Buenos Aires said there hasn’t been an electoral process “this close and with this much uncertainty” since a seven-year military dictatorship ended in 1983, when contrary to all forecasts, the hegemonic and powerful Peronist movement lost to the Radicales of ex president Ricardo Alfonsín.

Markets could go up or down depending on whether the business-friendly Macri or populist Alberto Fernández and ex president Cristina Fernández poll favorably on Sunday. Alberto Fernández was the former president’s chief of staff during her initial term from 2007-2011, and she surprised many people when she announced that she would be the vice-presidential candidate while he runs for president.

If no candidate wins outright in October, there would be a November runoff.

Anyhow the dispute also involves the recent past and Macri’s attempted economic reforms which have led Argentina into recession, and austerity, helped out with the support of a US$ 57 billion stand-by loan from the IMF, and the populism of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who has been hounded by corruption allegations and is rejected by a significant percentage of the electorate. She faces a series of trials, including accusations of bribes in exchange for public works projects.

During the campaign, Macri has pounded and pounded that the choice will determine whether Argentina “continues moving forward or returns to the past.”

Cristina Fernández counters that Argentines need to leave behind their current “ugly” reality. “I never thought I’d see entire families living on the street again,” she said adding that “hunger in Argentina is worse than in Venezuela”.-

The latest opinion polls before the 72-hour ban before voting day showed a rise in Macri’s approval rating in recent months, but not yet enough to top the Fernández/Fernandez ticket.

A total of ten presidential tickets are registered for Sunday’s primaries but Macri and the Fernandez tickets monopolize some 80% of the vote. Parties that get less than 1.5% of the overall votes cast in the primary won’t appear on the October ballot.

Some interesting facts about Sunday’s voting day: 37% is the proportion of the country’s total voters who reside and are registered in the critical Buenos Aires province area, excluding the city itself. The province with the next most voters is Córdoba with only 8.68% of the electorate. But winning Buenos Aires province is crucial.

The number of Argentine democratically elected presidents in history is 38, though this rises to 49 if military dictators are included. Since famed leader Juan Peron in the 1950s, there have been only six non-Peronist leaders, none of whom have completed their term. Mauricio Macri would be the first, and if reelected an even greater plus for the Argentine democracy.

On Sunday turnout is expected to be between 70/80%. Four years ago it was 80.77%. The voting hours in the primary election on Aug. 11 are from 08:00 to 18:00 with results beginning to trickle out after 9 p.m.

Next October 27, the presidential hopeful must obtain 45% of the vote to avoid a second round run-off in November, or get 40% with a 10-point lead over second place.

In 2015 Macri won the runoff with a difference of 678.774 votes, an estimated 2.7%. However he had previously lost both, the primary by some eight percentage points and the first round.

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