We are less than a month away from the midterm primary elections, and naturally that’s the only topic journalists covering politics can talk about. Until October 22, the day people will head to the polls, our unfortunate lot will live, breathe and sleep elections.
So if we are going to do it, we might as well do it right. That’s why we met with pundit Rosendo Fraga, one of the most respected voices in the conversation on the ever-changing political reality in the country. We asked him to analyze the current juncture, the situation held by the main candidates in the Buenos Aires Province and the different scenarios that could play out, depending on who wins the election. Here’s what he had to say.
Fraga began by analyzing the current administration’s political situation, and said that while it is where it wanted to be at the beginning of the year — “Going up against Cristina and the Peronist movement divided in three” — there’s a small issue: “in politics one thing is the theory and a whole different one is the practice. The government managed to be where it wanted to be. But once it got there, unexpected things came up.”
Fraga argued that the main factors that clouded the government’s position in the political line up are the following: “[former President] Cristina [Kirchner] came back with more political vigor than expected, and that the government thought the economic situation would be better.
“Plus, Cristina being in the political limelight creates economic uncertainty. The government is where it wanted to, but perhaps the effects of that desire are not the ones it wanted,” he explained.
Consulted about whether there was a political camp that could better capitalize the year’s most relevant events Fraga said no, not really: “right now I’d say that there’s no clear winner. You’ve got the government and Cristina with a third of the vote, Massa third with a sizable number and Randazzo fourth. No one knew how or managed to capitalize the situations that have taken place.”
Most polls project extremely different results, but the only thing all of them agree on is that an important percentage of the population — around 25 percent — hasn’t decided their vote. Fraga described the tools that Cambiemos and the former president have to attract them.
Regarding the government, it said that “they are focusing on two issues”: One is the corruption that has taken place in the past. It’s their great argument: ‘in order to not go back to the past, vote for us.’ The other is insecurity. I have the impression that what the government is trying to show through events is that they are doing something about it,” he said.
As for the former president, Fraga said that she will try to capitalize the “social situation.” “The Indec statistics agency reported the unemployment rate almost a month ago. But not only did it report that the rate went up, but also that the greater Buenos Aires area has the highest number, with an 11.8 percent. The average is 9.2. Buenos Aires’ is much higher. She was able to politically seize that.
“But we’re not seeing a clear scenario where we can say that a party is 10, five points ahead of another one. That’s a matter we have to be aware of. Doing a bit of electoral geography, we have the provincial interior that has a third of the vote, with cities such as Bahía Blanca, Azul, Tandil, where Cambiemos has the majority of the vote. They have the rural areas as well,” he added.
And he continued: “Now, if we go to the greater Buenos Aires area, which he said has two third of the votes, we find places such as La Matanza or Lomas de Zamora, which are two of the most populated districts, where Cristina has a clear advantage. The same happens in the Southern region of the greater Buenos Aires area. Now, the scenario is different in the Northern region. That shows a clearly divided vote. There’s not a clear victory of one over the other,” he explained.
The Buenos Aires Province is arguably the big price of the elections. Whoever gets it will be perceived as the winner, even if their party doesn’t get the most votes at a national level. That’s why I asked Fraga if he believes that the government will try to spin the analysis if it loses the Province at the hands of the former president.
“They will certainly try. They will say something like “Cristina is a party in the Buenos Aires Province, maybe the City too. I label the Peronist vote in the interior as something different. This is what the Kirchnerism tried to do in 2009, when De Narváez won and in 2013, when Massa won. It couldn’t. They could try, but I think it will be hard for it to [make] work. Especially because Cristina is a candidate, and that’s something that nationalizes the election in the Province,” he said.
Fraga also analyzed the candidacies of electoral front 1País leader Sergio Massa and former Interior and Transportation Minister during the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administrations, Florencio Randazzo.
Regarding Massa, he said: “he has been able to mitigate the polarization. Cambiemos has a third of the vote, Cristina a third and Massa has got a fourth. He managed to do this, but at a lesser scale. He got 20 points in the 2015 primaries and 2015 general elections, which is a similar number as the one he is projected to get in this elections. I believe it’s difficult for him to end up in second place, but I think he will get a sizable number of votes. I think this [his candidacy] has more to do with his intention to compete, rather than winning he would seem to be focused on showing he is still politically viable.”
When consulted what would be a good election for Randazzo, Fraga explained that “what makes a good or bad elections are the expectations.” Highlighting that polls play a big role at the time of shaping them, he said that “if Randazzo gets 10 or 12 points it will be a success, but because the polls predict he will get between four and six.”
“If he’s five or six points above the expectations it’s a good election. If he’s below that it will be a bad one.”
Someone who will surely win a seat is Fernández. Even if she comes in second, the former president will become a Senator, definitely coming back into the limelight of the political scene. Fraga assured, however, that her influence largely depends on the election’s outcome.
“If she wins by a vote, her supporters will take the streets that same night, chanting ‘Cristina 2019.’ If that were the case, the Macri administration will face two difficult years. If she loses by a vote, she will go to the Senate and form a Kirchnerite caucus, but she will become a disturbance.”
“If Cambiemos wins, Macri will be seen as a two-term president, and if he loses as a one-term one. That’s the most important political effect of a midterm,” he analyzed.
Finally, Fraga analyzed Argentina’s stance in the international landscape and, contrary to the intention expressed by the Macri administration and most heads of state who Macri has met with since taking office, he said that the country; “cannot and must not be a regional leader.”
And he continued: “When Argentina talks of leadership, countries react with wariness. In a present when the United States is not very involved in the region, and Brazil has weakened as an actor, with the crisis in Venezuela, Argentina needs to be a balancing factor.”