Opposition candidate favoured in Argentinian run-off election

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Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri of the centre-right opposition has emerged as the favourite to succeed Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. He had an unexpectedly strong first-round performance and is carrying the momentum into Sunday’s run-off against ruling-party candidate Daniel Scioli.

Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri has risen steadily in recent weeks to become the favourite in Sunday’s presidential election run-off in Argentina.

Macri, 56, of the centre-right opposition coalition Cambiemos (Let’s change), is up against against ruling-party candidate Daniel Scioli, 58, after finishing second to Scioli in the first round of voting on October 25. But his performance changed the trend and gave him a major boost.

Opinion polls had indicated that Scioli, who led Macri by 10 percentage points, would come close to winning the election in the first round. The latter’s goal ahead of the vote was merely to force a second round.

By election day Macri had closed the gap and lagged by less than three percentage points. Moreover, his party dealt Scioli a major blow as it claimed a historic win in the traditional Peronist stronghold of the Buenos Aires province adjoining the capital. The province accounts for one-third of the country’s population, and it is where Scioli currently serves as governor.

Weeks later, opinion polls indicate that Macri is likely to beat Scioli of the centre-left Peronist Front For Victory (FPV) by somewhere between four and eight percentage points in the run-off.

While it is now crystal clear that opinion polls can be very wrong, Macri has undoubtedly been riding a wave of optimism in recent weeks after what newspaper La Nacion described as an “enormous surprise.”

In a historic debate between the two candidates last week – the first such event ever held in Argentina – Scioli tried to distance himself somewhat from the outgoing government led by Fernandez de Kirchner, while Macri insisted on linking his opponent with past policy.

“Noboby believes [the ruling party] anymore. It has been too many years of lying,” Macri told Argentinian radio station Mitre on Monday.

Scioli shot back, telling the station La Red: “Macri’s underlying intention is to devalue [the Argentinian peso].”

Both men have been busy courting first-round voters who cast their ballot for other candidates, particularly the over 21 per cent who opted for dissident, centre-right Peronist Sergio Massa.

Massa, who built his platform on partial change focused mostly on fighting crime, has said he favours an opposition win. However, it remained to be seen whether his voters would follow that lead, and even Massa remains unimpressed with Macri’s actual platform.

“How much aggression. How few proposals. Let’s hope that on December 11 they will roll up their sleeves and get to work for the country,” he posted on Twitter after the debate.

Whoever the winner, this election embodies change after 12 years of rule by late president Nestor Kirchner (2003-07) and his wife Fernandez de Kirchner (2007-15). Argentinian laws ban Fernandez de Kirchner from standing for a third consecutive term, and she is backing Scioli, 58, her husband’s former vice president.

“I believe that the path is about development, looking after the progress the country has made [under the Kirchners] and gradually increasing productivity and competitiveness in our economy,” Scioli told dpa in a recent interview.

Scioli is believed to be more of a centrist than the left-leaning Kirchners and to have a more conciliatory approach to government. The Kirchners have long been accused by critics of too much authoritarianism and too little consensus-building.

The movement launched by Juan Domingo Peron (1895-74) is the only one with a strong grassroots presence around Argentina, but the first round of voting, and in particular the fact that the FPV lost Buenos Aires province, signals change.

Argentina faces economic challenges amid a global fall in commodity prices. With Brazil, its main trade partner, in recession, it has so far managed marginal growth, but that may not be sustainable.

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.

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