After a very, very long night, the PASO primaries came to a close early this morning and, just as it happens every time, the eyes of the country were set on its largest electoral district: the Buenos Aires Province.
The media and political pundits also focused part of the conversation on the resounding victories that Cambiemos got in similarly relevant, highly populated districts such as Córdoba, Buenos Aires City and Mendoza, as well as the astonishingly positive results that the party pulled off in San Luis and Santa Cruz, two provinces that have been governed by the Rodríguez Saá and Kirchner families for 32 and 28 years, respectively.
However, since the Buenos Aires Province holds 40 percent of the country’s voters, it has a superlative political importance and whoever gets it is usually considered the big winner of the election, even if the force they represent doesn’t get the most votes on a national level.
The problem is, we don’t know who won the Buenos Aires province yesterday and we won’t know for at least 10 days. With almost 96 percent of the votes tallied, the candidates of the two main parties, Cambiemos and Unidad Ciudadana, are virtually tied. Former Education Minister Esteban Bullrich so far got 34.19 percent of the votes, 0.08 percent more than former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. This is a difference of 6,915 votes in an election where nine million people cast a ballot. Nada.
This non-existent difference created a strange situation, even by the standards of Argentine politics: Last night, both parties claimed victory.
Cambiemos’ leaders did so between 10 and 11 PM, emboldened by the initial results, since at one point in the night, Bullrich had a five-point-lead over the former President.
However, the celebration — at least of the results in the Province — may have been a bit rushed since as the hours went by, the difference between the two narrowed considerably.
Aware of this trend, Cristina Kirchner refused to come out and address her supporters present at her party’s campaign headquarters for several hours. In what seemed to be a blast from the past, one of the party’s pre-candidates (now candidate), Leopoldo Moreau, accused the government of “kidnapping votes” (an expression that was used by Kirchnerism in the past to compare something to the kidnappings and forced disappearances that took place during the last dictatorship in Argentina.)
“We told you a while ago that the trend announced by the government had nothing to do with reality. Something very serious is going on at the post office. They have 93 percent of the results yet they have only released 89 percent of them. We urge the Interior Ministry to release the votes of the Province’s residents,” he said. “This is not the final result, there might be a surprise,” he then warned.
The former President finally took the stage at 3:40 AM, with 0.3 percent of the votes behind Bullrich: “Never, I swear from the bottom of my heart, I thought I would have to apologize to all Argentines for this embarrassment that we’re going through,” she began. Cristina accused Ppesident Macri of “pitting people against each other, encouraging hatred.” After arguing that “two out of every three citizens rejected the [government’s] austerity measures,” she finished her speech by assuring that her party “had won.”
This doesn’t seem to be the case either. At 4 AM, the former President was 0.01 percent behind Bullrich. But when it seemed like she was going to get the lead, Cambiemos’ candidate widened the difference to 0.1 percent. 5 minutes before 7 AM, with almost 96 percent of the votes tallied, the results stopped being updated.
In an interview with Radio La Red, the Interior Ministry’s Secretary of Institutional and Political Affairs, Adrián Pérez, was questioned on the reasons why we’re yet to see the final results. Pérez explained that on election day authorities conduct a “provisional tally”. In this system, once the polls close, the people in charge of tallying the votes in each ballot box fill a form with the results and send them to the tallying center, where they are entered in the system and released to the public.
However, the center wasn’t able to tally the forms of 1,537 out of the total 35,589 ballot boxes in the province, about 4 percent of the votes. Pérez explained that there are two reasons why it could happen: that the people in charge put the form inside the ballot box; or that the figure they write down doesn’t match the exact number of people who voted.
“We will review a lot of forms, we will even open ballot boxes. The ‘definitive tallying’ is the one that counts and will tell the final result of the primaries. It’s normal to have this amount of non-tallied votes in every election,” he said.
But despite the uncertainty, the government can — and has — consider last night a win. This was reflected in the speeches the party leaders gave in Palermo yesterday, and in a press conference that the now candidates in the province and María Eugenia Vidal, arguably the election’s big winner despite not having ran, held today.
“We are five points above our last election nationwide and four points up in the province. We are very happy for the support all Argentines have given Cambiemos. We had a great election but we know there’s still a long way to go. We’ll listen to the province’s residents,” said Vidal.
The market reacted along the same lines. The Argentine peso today appreciated close to 60 cents against the US dollar, following weeks of an opposed trend, fueled by the uncertainty that a victory from the former President would bring.
Despite Cambiemos’ euphoric mood, this was the first half in a match that will finish in October. We are little over two months away from the actual elections, and in Argentine political time, that’s an eternity. It will be up to them to capitalize the momentum and cement their victory then, especially considering that the former President will come for them with all she’s got. Anything other than a victory would mean the end of her political career.