In an election where almost every presidential hopeful sought to stake their claim as the candidate for change, it was the incumbent Kirchnerista forces – for the first time standing neither late former president Nestor Kirchner nor sitting President Cristina Fernandez – that came out in front.
Argentine voters went to the polls on August 9 to cast a ballot in the presidential primaries – a legally required first step towards running in the upcoming presidential elections in October.
The primaries – first implemented in 2011 – have a dual feature: it allows voters to vote for the pre-candidate they want their party to stand in the election and filters out parties who fail to obtain 1.5 percent of the vote by barring them from the presidential race.
Eleven parties and coalitions put forward 15 presidential pre-candidates. Three were seen as the main contenders: Mauricio Macri, who won 24 percent running for the Let’s Change Alliance; Sergio Massa, a traditional right-wing Peronist who won 14 percent on the slogan “A more just change”; and Daniel Scioli, backed by Cristina and the Front for Victory Alliance (FPV), who won with 38 percent of the vote.
In the past, primary winners have increased their vote in the actual elections. This places Scioli in striking distance of winning either 45 percent of the vote or 40 percent with a 10 percent advantage over his nearest opponent – which would enable him to avoid a second-round run-off vote.
If Scioli wins, it would be the fifth straight presidential win for the FPV. Despite 12 years in government, for many Argentines, the FPV continues to represent a break with the country’s traditional political class.
The FPV was set up to contest elections after the December 2001 anti-neoliberal uprising – known as the Argentinazo – that brought down several presidents under the slogan: “All of them must go!”
The FPV won the 2003 presidential race by standing Nestor Kirchner, a relative outsider who came from the traditional Peronist party, as its candidate.
The 2007 and 2011 elections were won by Kirchner's wife Cristina. A large part of their support has been due to policies that have sought to reactivate the economy. They have pushed greater state regulation and wealth redistribution via expanded social programs, as well as a strong stance in defense of human rights.
Kirchnerismo is seen by many as part of the broader trend of left governments that have been elected into power in South America since the turn of the century.
With Kirchner passing away in 2010 and Cristina unable to run due to constitutionally mandated term limits, the FPV selected Scioli as its best hope for holding onto government.
The decision to run Scioli, who as governor of Buenos Aires had sought to distance himself from Kirchnerismo, was highly controversial among FPV ranks.
Scioli’s background is as a businessperson and politician in the neoliberal Carlos Menem government. Along with his moderate “self-help” discourse, his image stands in sharp contrast to Cristina’s confrontational anti-oligarchic stance.
For these reasons, his candidature was seen by some on the left as a shift by Kirchnerismo back towards traditional Peronism.
On the right side of politics, much was made of Scioli’s adoption of key policies, slogans and colors identifying him with Cristina – cited as proof he was shifting in the opposition direction.
The right-wing media’s fears seemed confirmed when Carlos Zannini, one of the Kirchner’s closest and longest allies, was selected as his vice-presidential running mate.
The truth, however, is more complicated. Scioli clearly has a more traditional political background, but is acutely aware of the continued support for Cristina and FPV policies that moved away from neoliberalism.
Much of his primary campaign was spent arguing that while for the other candidates, “change” meant reverting to the neoliberalism of the '90s, his campaign stood for defending Kirchnerismo's achievements, while pushing improvements.
Speaking to the press after his primary win, Scioli said: “The people do not want austerity, indebtedness, cuts. They do not want the old recipes of the past, instead they want to continue forward on the basis of our achievements to date … The country is in the best condition to improve what has to be improved.”
Whether Scioli sticks to his word or seeks to gradually move away from the policies of Kirchnerismo is yet to be seen. But his comments reveal that any such move will come up against the hopes of many of his voters.
Rise of the left
The primaries also marked the continued rise of the Left and Workers Front (FIT). The far left ticket increased its votes from 2011 by 50 percent, narrowly missed out on fourth position.
Initially formed by three Trotskyist parties in 2011 as a bid to overcome the seemingly insurmountable 1.5 percent barrier imposed by the primaries, the FIT has gone on to win seats at a national and provincial level.
The FIT's success came on the basis of positioning itself as a viable left alternative to Kirchnerismo in a context where previous attempts at forming liberal left coalitions have faltered.
The FIT has won the respect of many due to its strong campaigning within trade unions, on universities and in parliament.
The primaries also marked a certain changing of the guard inside the FIT. Unable to reach agreement on a common presidential slate, and in the context of growing internal disputes, the FIT went into the primaries with competing lists.
The first, running as the “Unity List”, brought together two of the three component parties of the FIT as well as a range of groups outside the coalition. The list was headed by Jorge Altamira, a historic leader of the Trotskyist left and previous FIT presidential candidate.
The other list was called “Renovate and Strengthen the Front” and headed by Nicolas Del Cano. A young community organizer, in 2013 Del Cano was catapulted into national parliament after winning a historic 14 percent of the vote in the traditionally conservative Mendoza province.
Almost everyone expected Altamira to win, but the Renovate and Strengthen list ended up taking just over half of all votes cast for FIT candidates. Del Cano put victory down to his focus on denouncing the “political caste” and his call for politicians to be put on a teachers’ wage.
This was undoubtedly aided by the freshness of the Renovate list’s campaign – which prioritized women, youth and worker candidates. Many also see Del Cano – at 35 the youngest presidential candidate by far – as a stark contrast to the stale old politician types that have not just traditionally run the country, but also many left groups.
In the 14 years since the Argentinazo, Argentina has changed a lot. Yet while millions may not be on the street demanding “All of them must go!”, it is evident that the yearning for a break with the past that those protests represented still lingers.