In the midst of a critical economic situation and a deep erosion of his political legitimacy, President Alberto Fernández announced this morning that he will not be a candidate in the next presidential elections.
The president’s decision was communicated on the same day that a meeting of the Justicialist Party (PJ) is scheduled to define Peronism’s electoral strategy.
The electoral calendar has three key dates: June 24, the deadline for political parties to make their presidential candidacies official; August 13, when the primary and mandatory elections for all Argentine citizens will be held; and October 22, the day of the general elections.
In the primary elections —PASO, for its Spanish acronym— each party presents one or several candidates for the same position. The most voted candidates of each political space are the ones who formally compete in the general elections. Since the PASO are mandatory for all Argentine citizens (those who do not vote are fined), they provide accurate information on who are the most competitive candidates.
Late last night, President Alberto Fernandez informed his inner circle that he was going to make his decision not to run public today. There was speculation that he might announce it in May, but the circulation of some rumors and the alarming rise of the dollar this week accelerated the hands of the clock.
The PJ meeting scheduled for today exerted important pressure on the president: a sector of the ruling party, close to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was analyzing the possibility of proposing a splitting of the general elections in the province of Buenos Aires if Alberto Fernández did not withdraw his candidacy.
The province of Buenos Aires is the largest electoral district in the country, representing 37% of the national electoral roll. Since in Argentina, the elections are direct (and not defined by electoral colleges), the province of Buenos Aires plays a fundamental role in the election of national offices, including the president.
When the same party governs the province of Buenos Aires and the country, it has incentives to hold the provincial and national elections on the same date in order to strengthen and concentrate the campaign in a single district. Winning in the province of Buenos Aires is a fundamental step to reaching the presidency of the Nation.
Why was a sector of the ruling party willing to separate the general elections in the province, which must elect a governor this year, from the presidential elections? Because according to some sectors, the current governor of the province of Buenos Aires, Axel Kicillof, has more chances to be reelected if Fernández is not on the ballot in the province of Buenos Aires.
In addition to the tensions generated by the discussion of the electoral strategy, Fernandez faced a strong rise of the parallel dollar this week, sparked among other things by rumors that Economy Minister Sergio Massa would be replaced in what is already a delicate economic situation.