“He was in the dance”: politicians react to Massa presidential run

The announcement of Massa’s candidacy comes despite high inflation and Kirchnerist critiques of the economy

Coalition-mates and trade unionists have congratulated Economy Minister Sergio Massa and Chief of Staff Agustín Rossi after Friday night’s surprise announcement that ruling coalition Unión por la Patria (UxP) would field the pair as their sole ticket for president and vice president, respectively.

Interior Minister Eduardo “Wado” De Pedro, whose supporters had announced his run just a day before Massa was announced, tweeted shortly after midday Saturday to thank “those who dared to dream.”

“The country is facing great challenges,” he tweeted. “I’ve always been a party activist and will keep contributing to this project from my position, without personalism or egotism. Let’s build victory for Sergio Massa as president and Axel Kicillof as governor.”

His comment was the first official confirmation that Axel Kicillof will run for re-election as governor of Buenos Aires. 

Tucumán Governor Juan Manzur, who had been touted as a vice presidential candidate on De Pedro’s ticket, congratulated the pair in a tweet on Friday night. 

“We celebrate the unity of our political space and wish success for our candidate for president, Sergio Massa, and vice president, Agustín Rossi, who express the consensus of the [political] forces that make up Unión por la Patria,” he said.

In Argentina, all parties and coalitions wishing to run in the general elections must take part in primaries known as PASO (open, simultaneous and obligatory primaries), which this year are on August 13, but they can choose to field a single list of candidates. The deadline to file all candidacies for primaries is this Saturday at midnight. 

The national board of the General Confederation of Labor (CGT by its Spanish initials), Argentina’s largest trade union federation, published a short statement on Friday night backing the Massa-Rossi ticket. “The CGT welcomes the commitment and responsibility of the Unión por la Patria [coalition] in communicating that Peronism will run in the upcoming elections with a unified list,” its leaders wrote. 

They added that the pair would “guarantee the protection and progress of labor and social rights.”

“This CGT has called tirelessly for unity, and as it expressed in one of its last statements, when Peronism has been united, it has won the elections.”

Argentina’s ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Scioli, who launched his presidential campaign just a day before the announcement, had not publicly reacted to the news at the time of writing. His team did not reply to requests for comment.

Buenos Aires mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, one of the presidential frontrunners for opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio (JxC), said during a campaign event Saturday: “Massa running for president changes nothing for us. It’s Kirchnerism with whatever mask they choose to wear.”

Grabois to run?

Social leader Juan Grabois, who had initially withdrawn his candidacy to support De Pedro, retraced his steps and said he intends to run. “Wado is not the candidate, it is Mr. Sergio Tomás Massa, we will not withdraw [my candidacy].”

It remains unclear whether Grabois, founder of the left-wing party Frente Patria Grande, will split from Unión por la Patria to run, since the coalition has said it will only field one candidate.

While Massa’s presidential candidacy was not entirely unexpected, it came as a curveball. The Economy Minister long insisted he would only run if he was the sole candidate, on the grounds that internal rivalries within his coalition at a time when they are polling below the opposition would weaken their position.

However, his name had been floated as a possible presidential candidate, especially since he was made Economy Minister in August 2022. “The Alberto Fernández nomination four years ago by his candidate for Vice President [Cristina Fernández de Kirchner] was effectively a black swan, because he was a completely unexpected candidate up to that point,” said Dr Ariadna Gallo, a political sciences researcher at Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council. 

“In [Massa’s] case we’re not talking about an unexpected candidate, he was in the dance ever since people started talking about 2023 primary candidates, which was throughout last year.”

Analysts had suggested that the viability of Massa’s presidential run appeared to depend on his capacity to reduce inflation, something he has not managed: inflation was running at 114% inter-annually by the end of May. However, as the economic situation became more complex, he emerged as a figure who was managing the challenges, according to Gallo, something she said could be read as “paradoxical.”

Relationship with Kirchnerism

Adding to the surprise factor, she said, was the relationship between Kirchnerism and the Alberto Fernández government. Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has long had a frosty relationship with Alberto Fernández, especially over issues such as the 2022 International Monetary Fund deal, which CFK felt was too harsh on Argentina. 

“Kirchnerism, which appeared to be permanently critical of the current government’s management and constantly seeming to want to distance itself from the government, ends up accepting and backing a formula that is none other than the Economy Minister and the Chief of Staff,” Gallo said.

Although Massa’s Frente Renovador party joined the current coalition ahead of the 2019 elections, he has allied with the opposition in the past. Gallo pointed out that his party has worked with the UCR at provincial level.

Voting in the primaries is mandatory for the general population. If the main coalitions field a single ticket, then the mandatory and simultaneous nature of the vote means they can serve as a strong predictor of general election results. 

In 2019, current President Alberto Fernández secured a 14 percentage point lead in the primaries over incumbent Mauricio Macri, who was running for re-election. This was broadly interpreted as a sure victory for the Frente de Todos coalition, as UxP was known at the time.


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