EVENT: The deadline to formalise candidacies for the October 28 elections passed on September 8.
SIGNIFICANCE: Fourteen candidates will compete to succeed President Nestor Kirchner, though only four have any prospect of gaining voter percentage support in excess of single digits.
ANALYSIS: Following the September 8 deadline for candidacies to be formalised, 14 presidential hopefuls have confirmed their participation in the October 28 elections, slightly down from 18 in 2003. There are no surprises in the lengthy list, in particular among the more plausible candidates:
• The government candidate, Senator Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, will stand for President Nestor Kirchner's Victory Front (Frente para la Victoria, FPV), an alliance between the Victory and Peronist parties.
• Dissident Peronist Alberto Rodriguez Saa, governor of San Luis province, will stand for the Justice, Unity and Liberty Front (Frente Justicia, Unidad y Libertad, Frejuli). Rodriguez Saa was not legally authorised to use the name of the Peronist (Justicialista) party, having been nominated by a dissident grouping, and the 'Frejuli' acronym replicates that of the Justicialista Liberation Front that returned the Peronists to power in 1973 after 18 years proscription.
• Centre-leftist Elisa Carrio will stand for the Civic Coalition.
• Former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna, also on the centre-left, will stand for his UNA coalition, composed of sectors of the Peronist and Radical parties.
• Centre-rightist Ricardo Lopez Murphy will stand for his Recrear party.
Anarchic opposition. Neuquen Governor Jorge Sobisch, who unsuccessfully sought national alliances with both Rodriguez Saa and the incoming mayor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, will now stand for the newly formed United Provinces Movement. Leftist parties and social movements will put up six separate presidential candidates. At the same time, four of the presidential candidates -- including Lopez Murphy -- will also stand for the Lower House in the city and province of Buenos Aires. To complicate the panorama further, Carrio is backing two lists of legislators in the capital, Lavagna supports two gubernatorial candidates in Buenos Aires province, and Lopez Murphy is backed for the presidency by Macri in the capital only, competing with pro-Macri congressional candidates in the province.
In practice, the main candidacies are little changed from 2003, with the exception of former President Carlos Menem, who desisted from standing this year after a finishing a poor third in the recent gubernatorial elections in his home province of La Rioja (and who now faces charges of arms trafficking arising from his first presidency). Lopez Murphy and Carrio both stood in the 2003 presidential elections, placing third and fifth, respectively, as did Fernandez de Kirchner's husband, the eventual winner, and Rodriguez Saa's brother Adolfo, placed fourth. Despite popular demands for a radical shake-up of the political class following the 2001-02 crisis, it is plain that that class remains largely intact.
Fernandez favourite. The atomisation of the opposition makes a comfortable victory for Fernandez de Kirchner almost certain. Although, interestingly, no recent opinion polls have been published, earlier surveys put Fernandez de Kirchner consistently around 45-50% of voting intentions, with Carrio and Lavagna between 10-15% and Rodriguez Saa likely to reach a similar level; no other candidate reaches 5%. Fernandez de Kirchner is also favoured by the spending capacity of the government, designed to ensure a first-round win and avoid a possible opposition coalition in a second round. Kirchner recently decreed a 12% rise in budget spending for the year, involving an increase of 14.2 billion pesos (4.4 billion dollars). Growth reached some 8.4% in the first half of the year, with record tax collection allowing for the sharp rise in pre-election spending. Nevertheless, the electoral climate is in some respects becoming less favourable:
• Despite the spending spree and overall high approval ratings for the Kirchner government, its preferred candidates have lost six recent provincial elections, including two of the most important jurisdictions, Santa Fe province and the city of Buenos Aires.
• In Cordoba province, another key constituency, a virtual tie between the two leading gubernatorial candidates has led to allegations of fraud and a recount, amid accusations by both sides of interference by members of the Kirchner cabinet in favour of different candidates. The apparent loser, Luis Juez, has called on his supporters to cast blank votes in October, while Carrio and Lavagna have demanded international election observers.
Social squabbles. Moreover, of equal interest is likely to be the designation of candidates for the national and provincial legislatures and for local mayorships in the city and province of Buenos Aires. The FPV lists, chosen by Kirchner himself, for the Senate and Lower House are dominated by prominent politicians known to support Kirchner, while the lists for the provincial legislature are dominated by Peronist party bosses from the Greater Buenos Aires area and their chosen candidates. Virtually absent are candidates from the trade union movement and from the 'piquetero' movements (social activist groups purportedly representing the unemployed, whose tactics have relied primarily on roadblocks and sometimes violent protests). Both are showing signs of unrest after their demands for representation in the party lists were largely ignored.
In the absence of any significant institutional support base, on taking office in 2003 Kirchner sought to forge links with the traditionally Peronist trade unions -- in particular the umbrella General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and a number of the piquetero groups:
• Piqueteros. The government's preferred strategy for dealing with the latter has been to co-opt some of its leaders through political and economic incentives, although relations have declined since one piquetero leader, Luis D'Elia, was forced to resign from the cabinet last year. However, popular opinion has come to view the piquetero movement with increasing distaste, and the strategy has provided limited electoral advantage.
• CGT. The CGT, like the Peronist party itself, is badly divided and its ability to channel labour demands is limited. However, also like the party, it retains a greater capacity to disrupt than to represent, and strikes in support of double-digit wage demands have been widespread and debilitating this year. Although the CGT is of limited usefulness in mobilising support for the government or its candidates, it retains the ability to undermine them. The implicit threat of this has already been aired: CGT leader Hugo Moyano has recently questioned Fernandez de Kirchner's candidacy and policy goals, and warned that she will quickly face rising union pressures.
Outlook. In practice, Fernandez de Kirchner has given little hint as to her policy preferences, beyond suggesting a more business-friendly attitude than that of her husband. Kirchner himself has suggested that she would raise the primary surplus next year to 4% of GDP, from around 3% this year. However, neither of these suggestions will find favour with the CGT or other influential political sectors. With a factionalised opposition lacking discipline, a relatively limited core of true supporters and rising social demands from the CGT, piqueteros and local political bosses, the possibility of reducing public spending post-election appears minimal.
CONCLUSION: Kirchner's failure to form a sustainable support base incorporating broader sectors, or even within the Peronist party itself, will undermine governability as competing factions seek to 'avenge' their electoral exclusion. The financial incentives needed to keep a range of contradictory interests in line will limit prospects for more prudent fiscal policy, damaging the business climate and increasing longer-term concerns over debt sustainability and inflationary pressures.