4 Key Takeaways from Argentina’s Presidential Election

Daniel Scioli and Mauricio Macri will compete in runoff on November 22 to determine Argentina's next president.
Daniel Scioli and Mauricio Macri will compete in a runoff on November 22 to determine Argentina’s next president. (Libertad y Progreso)

EspañolAfter six hours of radio silence, Argentina’s election authorities finally unveiled the results of the presidential vote, shocking the nation.

All pre-election polls predicted that President Cristina Kirchner’s chosen successor, Daniel Scioli, would secure a close first-round victory, but reality is a cruel mistress.

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Conservative rival Mauricio Macri came in with a surprisingly strong performance to win almost 34.5 percent of the vote, while Scioli finished with 37 percent. The 2-point difference forces a runoff scheduled for November 22 that will determine the next president of Argentina.

This scenario was unthinkable even a few weeks ago, and Scioli may have suffered a significant blow to his campaign with this result. Since the very beginning of the race, Scioli has been the favorite to win it all, partly encouraged by the state-run media apparatus.

However, the governor of the vast province of Buenos Aires — a Peronist stronghold, which has been ruled by his party for the last 28 years — couldn’t even secure victory on his own turf, and this may ultimately cost him in the runoff.

Sergio Massa, who parted ways with the Kirchner administration in 2009, finished in third with roughly 21 percent of the vote. Macri is poised to attract a large chunk of those votes in the second round, potentially on his way to securing the presidency.

Apart from these results, here are four things we learned from Argentina’s presidential election so far:

1. Argentina Won’t Become Another Venezuela

Any plans for Argentina to follow in the same authoritarian footsteps as Venezuela have been thwarted.

Even if Scioli eventually wins next November, the government will be forced to listen to the strong demands from the public to move away from the pride and arrogance that has marked the Kirchner administration.

Scioli cannot continue the same superficial politics. Perpetuating the agony of a languishing economy through intervention that begets distortions that then begets more intervention — known as the dynamics of interventionism — is no longer an option.

If he opts to ignore the public, and instead follow the orders of his political bosses, he will likely lose the little support he has within his own party, whose members are loyal only to power.

2. Macri Won’t Change Much

Macri casts himself as an alternative to populism, and indeed he is, but what kind of alternative?

Macri is no liberal. During his tenure as Buenos Aires mayor, he never hesitated to raise taxes. He has stated his intention to burden Argentineans with more debt, and has always flirted with the corporatist lobbies that promote the so-called national industry. Macri himself has been part of this same crony-political class, when decades ago he managed the family businesses that were in bed with the government.

But all things considered, Macri is harmless compared to Kirchner. We just need to be wary of the risks that his technocratic approach to governance can bring.

The same arrogance that 21st-century socialists display when they attempt to control the economy, a technocratic ruler bestows upon a team of experts.

Technocrats like Macri believe experts are well suited to design economic and social policy, draft plans to fight insecurity, or find solutions to whatever people demand. They are not so different from their populist cousins. They both incur the fatal conceit of believing that individuals are like puppets who just need a good puppeteer.

Macri could perhaps at least normalize Argentina’s republican institutions. Although he is not exempt from the same vices as the Kirchners, such as confusing the party with the state, he might improve Cristina’s poor record of respecting separation of powers and the rule of law.

What he will not change are the countless policies that despise individual freedom and society’s spontaneous order: for populists and technocrats alike, solutions can only be top-down.

3. The Opposition Conquered a Peronist Stronghold

Something unusual happened on Sunday. For the first time in 28 years, Peronism lost the governorship of Buenos Aires, the most powerful stronghold for the party founded by former President Juan Domingo Perón.

Opposition candidate MarĂ­a Eugenia Vidal defeated Kirchner’s Chief of Staff AnĂ­bal Fernández, with 39.5 percent of the vote against 35.2 percent. Her victory is a unique opportunity to roll back the patronage system built by the Peronists that has allowed some mayors to stay in power for decades.

Alternation reduces the amount of power a single group can hold, and prevents partisan structures from hijacking the government. Time will tell if the province of Buenos Aires will begin a process of deperonization, as Vidal will need to banish the cronies once and for all, and not just replace them with her own friends.

4. A Gridlocked Congress Is Good News

For the first time in years, no coalition will enjoy an absolute majority in the lower chamber of Congress. During the Kirchnerist era, legislators just rubber-stamped the executive’s proposals. Now, they will have to debate and reach consensus.

Those who fear that a gridlocked Congress won’t be able to pass any laws are missing the point. Argentina needs less, not more, legislation.

Laws, regulations, and rules typically enact protections for special interests. As Mark Twain once wrote: “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

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