The Cambiemos coalition could not have dreamed of a better night. Its candidates got a collective 42 percent of the vote at a national level, winning 13 out of the 24 jurisdictions, including the five more populous districts. Of all the factors that made this a historic election, chief among them was Esteban Bullrich’s defeat over former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner by four points in the Buenos Aires Province, taking home the biggest prize of the night.
Even though Cambiemos won’t hold a majority in Congress, the magnitude of its victory – especially in the Buenos Aires Province – holds both a symbolic and real value that will allow it to negotiate with the opposition to implement its legislative agenda: it showed the country and the world that it’s the most popular party at the moment and even an objectively dull candidate like Bullrich – who had to have Governor María Eugenia Vidal basically do his campaign for him – was able to beat the former President in the historic stronghold of the Peronist/Kirchnerite party.
Even Cambiemos’ major opponents lost in the way that benefited the coalition the most: Fernández lost by a rather small margin, allowing her to make it clear that she will remain active in the political world and the leaders who could spearhead a renewal of the currently fragmented Peronist Party did much worse than expected.
The former President got a substantial amount of votes yesterday, showing that she continues to be the most popular opposition leader. Fernández emphasized this when addressing the crowd gathered at her party’s headquarters. She said that “nothing finished here today, now it’s when everything begins” since “only Unidad Ciudadana has grown [compared to August’s primaries] and emerges as the most firm opposition to this government,” clarifying her intentions to continue as a power player in the political landscape.
This will always benefit Cambiemos. Fernández has a large base, but there’s a much larger amount of people who can’t tolerate her and is more than willing to only vote for a party if it means she won’t go back to being President – i.e Cambiemos. Her reluctance to retire despite being perfect for the government’s strategy sets a ceiling on the opposition.
Why? Because the other leaders that could represent the renewal, such as Sergio Massa or Salta Governor Juan Manuel Urtubey, would probably keep the anti-Macri vote that Fernández got and would be in a better condition to captivate adhesion from other political camps.
However, there are two factors that make this scenario unlikely: the first is that the former President’s base will always choose her over the aforementioned leaders. As long as she intends to keep competing, that ceiling will remain there.
The second is the poor performances by other potential candidates in their respective districts. Massa got roughly 11 percent of the vote in the Buenos Aires Province, 26 points behind Fernández and 9 less than what he got at a national level in 2015’s presidential’s. He even lost in Tigre, where he was mayor and with which he is largely associated.
Urtubey’s candidate in the Province of Salta, Andrés Zottos, lost against its Cambiemos counterpart, Martín Grande, by more than six points. Without a stronghold they can use as a platform, building their influence at a national level will be an uphill job.
Taking these factors into account, President Mauricio Macri didn’t waste a second to celebrate – not counting the typical awkward dancing at Cambiemos’ headquarters from yesterday – and already announced his intention to capitalize the political and moral victory to implement his legislative agenda until, at least, the next elections. In a press conference held today morning at Casa Rosada, Macri said that his government will seek to move forward with the “reforms the country needs.”
According to press, the President will call governors, lawmakers, union leaders, judicial officials and district mayors to a summit aimed at working on these reforms. “Argentina doesn’t have to fear reforms, because they represent the possibility to grow,” Macri said today. It will be interesting to see how the summit unfolds, and where the government – and country – goes from here.