Argentina’s presidential election will end Kirchner dynasty, for now

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Argentinians head to the polls Sunday with ruling-party candidate Daniel Scioli the clear front-runner. But the next president will bring at least a name change, after three terms of Nestor Kirchner and his wife and successor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Argentinians are to head to the polls Sunday to elect a president who will embody change after 12 years of rule by late president Nestor Kirchner (2003-07) and his wife Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (2007-15).

The country’s laws ban Fernandez de Kirchner from standing for a third consecutive term, and after some initial reservations she is backing Daniel Scioli, her husband’s former vice president and current governor of the powerful Buenos Aires province adjacent to the capital.

“This transformation will not end here, because Daniel is going to be the president of all Argentinians and is going to continue this major piece of work we have launched,” Fernandez de Kirchner said last week at an event with Scioli.

The nominee of the Peronist Front for Victory (FPV), Scioli is believed to be more of a centrist than the left-leaning Kirchners and to have a more conciliatory approach to government than the marital dynasty, which was accused by critics of too much authoritarianism and too little consensus-building.

Scioli, 58, a former powerboat pilot who lost his right arm in a racing accident, is the clear front-runner.

Argentinian electoral law says that, in order to win the presidency in just one round of voting, a candidate needs to get either more than 45 per cent of the votes or more than 40 per cent with a lead of at least 10 percentage points over his closest rival.

Opinion polls put Scioli close to 40 per cent and cast doubt on the chances for Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, 56, a businessman as well as the candidate of the centre-right Cambiemos coalition, to top 30 per cent to force Scioli into a run-off election on November 22.

Sergio Massa, 43, a former government chief of staff under Fernandez de Kirchner who has built his platform on partial change focused mostly fighting crime, appeared to lose steam as an alternative as the election loomed and the campaign became more polarized. He seemed unlikely to get more than 20 per cent, according to opinion polls.

“People see me as the predictable option, as governability,” Scioli told the daily La Nacion in a recent interview.

The movement launched by Juan Domingo Peron (1895-74) is the only one with a strong grassroots presence around Argentina, among those backing the top three presidential candidates. And Argentina, unlike its bigger neighbour Brazil, is coping reasonably well with the global fall in commodity prices.

Even with Brazil, its main trade partner, in recession, Argentina is managing marginal growth, based on what Scioli described as “the virtuous cycle of domestic consumption and income distribution.”

Critics have slammed Fernandez de Kirchner’s policy of handouts and an inflation rate that is likely well above 20 per cent.

Argentina’s next president, due to take office on December 10, will need to deal with inflation, as well as foreign exchange controls that have led to a thriving black market for dollars and shrinking Central Bank reserves.

The winner will need to tackle the issue of the defaulted bond holders who have so far refused to settle with Argentina’s government, after it defaulted on 95 billion dollars of debt in 2001.

While more than 92 per cent of holders of defaulted bonds have accepted partial settlements or discounts, the remainder have sued Argentina in US courts for full reimbursement. The dispute is keeping Argentina out of most international credit markets.

Fernandez de Kirchner remains very popular as she leaves office, and all candidates acknowledge that the country has come a long way from its massive crisis of the early 2000s. All three major candidates promise to build on her legacy but insist they will keep many measures they once opposed, including several nationalizations.

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