Yes, we know it’s January. And we know the presidential elections are more than nine months away. But this is Argentina, which means that at the moment one election is over, speculation about the strategy each party will adopt for the next one begins.
We have already talked about how the government seems to be trying to install a debate regarding insecurity – i.e lowering the age of criminal responsibility, deporting foreigners who commit crimes – to move the public conversation to an area that suits it better than talking about the state of the economy.
- Read more: Lowering the Age of Criminal Responsibility and deporting Foreigners who commit crimes is What We’re Debating Now
But there is also another matter, even more speculative, which has been dominating the summer headlines, and whose outcome could actually have a much more tangible impact on the result of the presidential elections: the possibility that Buenos Aires Governor, María Eugenia Vidal, brings the provincial elections forward.
This theory started to make the rounds in late 2018, but gained strength in the past few days. The reason, according to most polls, is clear: President Mauricio Macri’s approval rating is generally low – around 38 percent – but even more so in the Province of Buenos Aires. Vidal’s in contrast, is much higher – 51 percent. And while the positive image of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is even lower than Macri’s – 33 percent – it grows significantly in the territory.
These figures mean that if Vidal holds the gubernatorial election at the same time as its national counterpart, she would have to deal with Macri’s negative image in her own ticket, and the weight of Cristina in her main rival’s. However, if she uncouples, the chances of getting reelected are far better, as there does not seem to be a candidate strong enough to challenge her in those circumstances.
Although Governor Vidal has not made any statements about the issue, her actions show that she is at 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.
The commission will be formed by provincial deputies and senators, as well as members of civil society, and will begin to session on January 17. The deadline to make the announcement is early March.
Vidal is far from being the only governor in this situation. Nine provincial administrations have already announced they will move their elections forward. Many cited the need to detach their elections in order to focus on provincial matters that would otherwise be eclipsed by the presidential elections, but the intention of not being dragged into the Macri-Cristina fight is present in all of them.
In fact, even two other Cambiemos governors, Jujuy’s Gerardo Morales and Mendoza’s Alfredo Cornejo, are reportedly considering the possibility of following the same path. Macri has called them both down to his Patagonian retreat, where he is spending his holidays, to change their minds.
Thing is, Vidal’s case is much more impactful. Not only because of the size of the province – a third of the country’s population – on the general election, but because of the provincial election’s effect on optics.
That’s why the theories in favor and against the decision abound. The Cambiemos officials who are in favor of uncoupling argue that a Vidal victory in the months prior to the generals would convey an image of force to Cambiemos, weakening the former president at the same time.
Moreover, Cristina would could not fully count on the electoral engineering of the district mayors in the greater Buenos Aires area (conurban0), 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.
Those advocating the scenario, in contrast, use the following arguments: firstly, it basically means assuming that President Macri is an electoral liability, when the main goal is actually achieving his reelection. And secondly, 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.
According to local media, Macri’s two electoral gurus, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña and long-time consultant Jaime Durán Barba, are against the uncoupling. Macri blindly trusts them when it comes to electoral matters, as he has never lost with them.
Some are also speculating with the possibility that Cristina will compete against Vidal in the Province to beat her and thus deal a mortal blow to Cambiemos. The former President could even run in that election and then appoint a surrogate governor to be able to compete in the nationals.
However, three Kirchnerite officials – Agustín Rossi, Leopoldo Moreau and Teresa García – rejected the possibility: “[this theory] reveals that Macri is doing far worse than polls lie [tell]. Neither Kirchner nor any official from Unidad Ciudadana is thinking about these electoral strategies that Clarín or Cambiemos are making up in order to avoid an inevitable defeat,” Moreau said. The former president, faithful to her style, has not said anything about the issue and is likely to only announce whether she will run hours before the deadline.
The uncoupling, or lack thereof, will be announced close to the March deadline. Until then, it is all speculation. Some media outlets say that Vidal favors the decision, others that the idea is losing steam.
Us, in the meantime, pick up the popcorn and eagerly watch the palace intrigue unfold.