The hottest Argentine telenovela of the summer – and I’m not talking about the struggle to not melt while living with what feels like two million degrees and extended power outages – has reached an early conclusion. Buenos Aires Province Governor, María Eugenia Vidal, announced she will not uncouple the provincial elections from its national counterparts after all.
The possibility that Vidal would follow through with the uncoupling was at the forefront of the political conversation for weeks, mainly for two reasons. First, it would have had an important effect in the way the other parties approached their respective campaigns; second, it would have likely been detrimental to the public image of the national Executive Branch.
Vidal has always enjoyed better approval ratings than Macri, but the difference between them has grown in the past months, along with the deepening of the country’s economic crisis. This doesn’t mean that Vidal’s image hasn’t suffered, but it certainly did to a lesser extent than the President’s.
The different way in which both leaders have been affected by the crisis can be illustrated by the result of a January poll from Synopsis: when given the possibility to choose any potential candidate for this year’s presidential elections, 16 percent chose Vidal against Macri’s 15 percent, even though Vidal has assured time and time again that she will not campaign for the presidency.
Although Vidal never made any public statements regarding the issue, media reported that she favored the uncoupling, and her actions demonstrated that she was at the very least considering it: the provincial legislature formed a special commission tasked with discussing the feasibility of bringing the election forward, as they would have to modify certain laws to do so.
Bringing the elections forward would have allowed Vidal to not deal with Macri’s negative image in her own ticket and, at the same time, avoid former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as her contender from Unidad Ciudadana – if she decides to run, that is. Unidad Ciudadana does not have a candidate who is strong enough in the province to challenge Vidal, but Kirchner’s popularity, especially in some sectors of the conurbano, can provide a massive helping hand to this still-unknown contender.
Moreover, the Cambiemos officials who were in favor of uncoupling also argued that a Vidal victory in the months prior to the generals elections would convey an image of strength while simultaneously weakening the former president. They indicated that Cristina would could not fully count on the electoral engineering of the district mayors in the greater Buenos Aires area, most of whom are Kirchnerite and wield a great deal of traction in their territories, even in national elections. If the mayors’ respective reelections depended on Cristina’s victory, they would strongly work for it. If this was not the case, then they probably wouldn’t.
In contrast, the President’s two electoral gurus, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña and long-time consultant Jaime Durán Barba, were always against the uncoupling. Their argument was the following: first, it basically assumes that President Macri is an electoral liability, when the main goal is to secure his reelection. Second, the economy will be doing better in October than July or August – potential dates for the provincial elections – so Vidal also increases her chances by waiting.
Although Macri reportedly shared this last stance, different reports assured that he had allowed Vidal to present her arguments in a meeting to be held in the near future. The final decision was supposed to be made in early March, close to the commission’s deadline.
However, the body couldn’t even hold its first session, as it was surprisingly announced on Tuesday. “The Buenos Aires Province’s inhabitants need assurance, they need to know when they are going to vote. I don’t speculate with electoral dates, I want to win and I will win in any scenario, on any date. I am not scared of any opponent,” Vidal’s Chief of Staff, Federico Salvai, told Clarín.
“Vidal doesn’t want the residents to vote on so many different occasions. It would have been an extremely costly decision for the province, especially at a time like this. Cambiemos will play as a team and Vidal believes she has good chances of being reelected,” Salvai added.
Following this announcement, several opposition leaders came out to criticize Cambiemos for, in their eyes, having speculated with the elections for electoral purposes.
President of the provincial Partido Justicialista (PJ) Fernando Gray said: “It is inadmissible that the government even thought of wasting more than AR $3 billion for an uncoupling that would have been unnecessary for residents.”
Unidad Ciudadana National Deputy Fernando Espinoza said: “It is fortunate that they are now done with this lie.” “I hope that Governor Vidal stops speculating and begins trying to solve the grave problems residents face in these ten months she has left,” he added.
Unidad Ciudadana Provincial Senator Gervasio Bozzano said that “uncoupling would have been a terrible mistake.” “The way they went about this shows how little appreciation Cambiemos has for democracy. [Vidal] will tag along with Macri to improve his electoral chances,” he added.
On another end of the opposition spectrum, Frente Renovador Deputy Graciela Camaño said that “with this electoral system, the province is being held hostage by the national government.”
The trip to the polls is still almost nine months away, but one of the most important pieces of the electoral puzzle has just fallen into place and all analyses – as early as they might be – will have a little more information to predict en election that is going to be extremely consequential for Argentina.