Daniel Scioli. Flickr. Some rights reserved.
“People assessed and then decided. Moreover, this is a time when Argentina wants to oxygenate its institutions through change. I was unfairly smacked many times. I have been fighting for six months and sleeping very little and eating badly for the last month. Yesterday, I couldn’t sleep a wink and only now I am getting back on my feet. I am proud of this civic party”. These are Mauricio Macri’s words.
But he did not pronounce them on Monday October 26, 2015, after his huge electoral performance the day before. Macri was evaluating his electoral victory on December 5, 1995, his first step into politics. At that moment, the runoff, Daniel Scioli, the alliance with the Unión Cívica Radical, his three successive victories as Buenos Aires City mayor, and the constitution of his own political party, the Republican Proposal (PRO), all belonged to an unpredictable future. By the end of 1995, Macri also won the elections to become president of the Boca Juniors football club. Popular sport magazines ran front page headlines saying: “Argentina’s Berlusconi”.
Last Sunday, the Macri-led Cambiemos (Lets’ change) alliance achieved what not even the most optimist militants would have dared to imagine. He got himself into the second round of the presidential election with a close-to-technical draw with Daniel Scioli, the candidate for the Front for Victory, the party in power in Argentina since 2003. Macri even managed to defeat Peronism in the elections for governor of the Buenos Aires Province, something that had not happened since 1983. The size of the electoral results, whatever happens in the second round, is gigantic. Kirchnerism’s political hegemony since the country’s way out of the 2000/2012 crisis is now hampered, and a bipolar scheme emerges.
Macri can be located in what is now called the new right, economically liberal but not fully anti-popular, democratic and sensible to changes in the public mood. Henrique Capriles, Aecio Neves and Sebastián Piñera, in Venezuela, Brasil and Chile respectively, also belong to this category. Scioli and Peronism, on their side, represent a relatively light version of Kirchnerism, with no great expectations and willing to mend broken bounds, from the IMF to the local corporate media.
This is to say that both Macri and Scioli show a preference for the centre of the political spectrum. This carries some electoral clout due to the new expectations of a generation that grew up under Kirchnerism – such as the conspicuous need for infrastructures -, and to the quest for some “emotional” political stability without dismantling the social conquests of the past years. This new political cycle has a more conservative tinge than the last twelve years, at all levels: economic, political, cultural and symbolic.
The presidential race was reduced to only two, not identical, but even less so opposing options. Anthropologist Alejandro Grimson shows how Argentinian society can be divided into thirds: a Kirchnerist third, an anti-Kirchnerist third, and an undecided third. The latter group allowed Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to win the 2011 election with a 54 percent vote.
This group is the one who this time shied away from Kirchnerism. Grimson suspects that, to the undecided third, “the economic lack of definition of the Macri-led space resulted more predictable than another lack of definition, presumably more gradual but politically more conflictive – that of the power battle inside Kirchnerism”.
Without the possibility of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner running again and without a leader comparable to her, Scioli was the candidate by choice. A politician who is not perceived as a Kirchnerist by the Kirchnerists, but perceived as such by the opposition and, moreover, quite unattractive to the undecided. On the other side, Macri has been able to convince one part of the constituency that he is not an Argentinian Berlusconi.
The runoff is open and yet promises to be determined by a penalty shoot-out.