Massa crítica: how Argentina’s election tickets affect power balance

The primary candidates are confirmed. We asked analysts how they square up

After much turmoil, negotiations and failed candidacy announcements, Argentine coalitions have finally presented their lists to compete in August’s primary elections, the deadline for which was on Saturday at midnight.

While the ruling Peronist Unión por la Patria (UxP) coalition opted for centrist Economy Minister Sergio Massa with Chief of Staff Agustín Rossi, ruling out hardcore Kirchneristas, opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) is fielding two candidates with similar proposals but differing tones, analysts told the Herald.

The Herald reached out to two political analysts and a political scientist to understand what all the horse trading means for the electoral landscape in the countdown to the primaries.

Is Massa Cristina Kirchner’s candidate?

Economy Minister Massa is the leader of the Frente Renovador, which some years ago campaigned against kirchnerism. Rossi comes from UxP’s kirchnerist wing, but has recently become closer to President Alberto Fernández. “This presidential ticket has a more conservative candidate and a more progressive candidate”, said Dr Mariano Fraschini, a politics lecturer at the University of Buenos Aires and the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (UBA and FLACSO, by their Spanish acronyms).

“The real novelty here is that there isn’t a candidate that reflects hardline kirchnerism. Rossi is a kirchnerist, but he isn’t [Vice President] Cristina Kirchner’s candidate. Cristina’s candidate is Massa”. Cristina Kirchner, a powerful two-term former president, was recently convicted of corruption. She denies the charges and is appealing, but if upheld, she would face a lifetime ban on elected office. In that light, Fraschini said that Kirchner had opted for the most “potent” candidate, which ultimately wasn’t Interior Minister Eduardo “Wado” de Pedro.

Sergio Massa

Political consultant Analía del Franco thinks the choice of candidate shows Kirchner isn’t the only one calling the shots nowadays. “It’s not that her voice is disappearing, but there are also others,” she said. “There was a negotiation, and that was favorable for the coalition because this ticket is more competitive than the other one.”

While De Pedro has sat in the cabinet since this government was elected in 2019, it is Massa who in recent months has repeatedly hit headlines for his role in key negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, the Chinese government, and other major international players.

Analyst Andrés Gilio, director of the consulting agency Opina Argentina, described Massa’s candidacy as “a sign that Cristina doesn’t have full control of the electoral design in the coalition.” 

“I think we are witnessing the first sign of Kirchner’s loss of her power of influence,” he said.

The analysts agreed that Massa-Rossi was the stronger ticket. “Massa is a candidate that satisfies both Cristina Kirchner and [President] Alberto Fernández”, Fraschini said. Del Franco added that this duo is good inside and outside the coalition. “Inside the coalition, it managed to gain consensus from most of its members. And outside, it’s more competitive. Massa always has a trick up his sleeve.”

Within UxC, leftist social leader Juan Grabois will compete on a ticket with sociologist Paula Abal Medina. He had pulled out to back De Pedro when it appeared that he would run, but got back in the game when Massa was announced instead. Nonetheless, his ballot will include the same deputy candidates as Massa’s.

Juntos por el Cambio: same ideas, different tones

Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich are the rivals for the JxC presidential nomination, in a race that took shape months ago and held little by way of surprises over the weekend. Although they target different kinds of voters, their differences are more a question of tone; their proposals are fundamentally similar, analysts agreed.

“Larreta is more moderate [in his approach], and Bullrich is more confrontational”, Del Franco said. The Buenos Aires Mayor’s ticket is not short of firebrands, however: his vice president, Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales, oversaw fierce repression against protesters in his province last week.

Patricia Bullrich named her VP candidate
Patricia Bullrich

“Patricia Bullrich represents the more hardline faction of the PRO,” Fraschini said. “She decided to go for a ballot with candidates who think a lot like her, associated with a radical change, a hard right wing transformation of structures.”

As for Larreta, Fraschini said that he has changed his strategy in the last few months – probably in view of flagging polls – to switch from engaging with more moderate allies to signing up extreme outsider allies. “This list has a potpourrí of candidates, starting with his vice president candidate, [UCR leader] Gerardo Morales, who is more aligned with the right; his main senator candidate, [libertarian] José Luis Espert, whose slogan is ‘jail or bullet’; and [anti-Kirchnerist Peronist] Miguel Ángel Pichetto as head of the deputies list.”

“This diverse potpourrí is the antithesis of Bullrich’s electoral proposal, which is ideologically coherent. Larreta tried to gather everyone he could manage in order to be more competitive,” Fraschini told the Herald.

Horacio Rodríguez Larreta

According to Opina Argentina’s last poll, done 15 days ago, Bullrich and Larreta were almost neck and neck, with a slight upper hand for Larreta, a balance which could easily shift.

Former president Mauricio Macri could help break this tie: he’s had some disputes with Larreta this year, most recently the mayor’s proposal to bring Peronist Córdoba Governor Juan Schiaretti into JxC, but Macri also criticized his decision of splitting the ballot in two for the national and local elections, which could reduce support for the ex-president’s cousin, Jorge Macri. Macri’s role in the campaign is still unknown, and whether his support for Bullrich will be “explicit or implicit”, Gilio said. “That could be decisive, because although Macri doesn’t have high approval outside JxC, among JxC’s voters he could have an important influence.”

What happens with Milei?

“Milei did what he could this past time because some of his candidates left him,” Fraschini said. “A month ago, he was the only confirmed candidate. It was evident that, as more candidates from other coalitions were announced, Milei’s support would inevitably diminish.” 

Despite their differences, he added that Milei and Bullrich share “ultra-rightwing expressions and bizarre ideas” that make up their political persona. “Those who vote for Milei don’t do it because he has a good senator candidate or a good VP candidate, they do it because of his leadership.” 

Javier Milei and his VP candidate, Victoria Villarruel

A closer examination of Milei’s proposals could reduce the libertarian economist’s support, Fraschini added, suggesting that his strong poll numbers a few weeks ago were due to ignorance regarding his political views. “Once Milei is confirmed as an alternative, voters look up his electoral offer and find that what he’s saying is horrendous.” The free market fundamentalist has previously voiced support for the sale of human organs and suggested that people are free to die of hunger.

For the ruling coalition, the sudden change from De Pedro to Massa could garner more votes from outside hardline peronism, but also losing some from more leftist voters who wanted to support the Interior Minister. 

Frente de Izquierda

“On the left (Frente de Izquierda or FIT, by its Spanish acronym) there are two alternatives: Myriam Bregman with Nicolás del Caño, and Gabriel Solano with Vilma Ripoll. They will attract the votes from those hardline kirchnerists who feel uncomfortable with Massa’s candidacy. Since the peronist ballot doesn’t have names from this political side, surely many votes that Grabois can’t pick up in the primaries will go to FIT,” Fraschini pointed out.

In JxC, there is also doubt regarding where the losing candidate’s votes will go. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with Larreta’s votes if Bullrich wins, or with Bullrich’s votes if Larreta wins,” the political scientist said. Gilio thinks some of Larreta’s votes could go to Massa if he loses, and many from Bullrich would go to liberal Javier Milei if it’s the other way around.
Argentina’s primaries are known as PASOs, the Spanish initials for open, simultaneous and obligatory primaries, because they take place on the same day and voting is compulsory for the general public, rather than limited to party members. This year, the date is August 13. With less than two months to go, only time will tell how the cards will ultimately fall.


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