Argentines will be going to the polls this Sunday to vote in the open, simultaneous, mandatory primaries (PASO) when the different parties will be choosing their one-candidate for the big prize on 25 October when the successor of Cristina Fernandez will be elected together with half of the Lower House (129 seats), a third of the Senate (24 seats) and 43 members for the Mercosur parliament.
Eight groupings will be voting for their presidential candidate, but two are the ones that really matter and have good chances of making it to the Casa Rosada. In effect they are the incumbent candidate from the ruling Victory Front of President Cristina Fernandez, current Buenos Aires province governor Daniel Scioli, and the mayor of Buenos Aires City, from the conservative PRO, Mauricio Macri.
Macri is the undisputed leader of PRO and he proved it with eight years running as head of the Argentine capital, and keeping control of the city in recent elections so Sunday will be a formality. The same can be said of Scioli, who finally managed to receive the blessing from Cristina Fernandez as her candidate, but who nevertheless had to complete the ticket with Carlos Zannini, probably the closest and most trusted advisor of the president after her son Maximo.
So these two candidacies have already been decided, but the interesting thing is that the votes they collect (in Sunday's compulsory event) will be the most clear and reliable poll of the support each of them really enjoys, something difficult to anticipate in Argentina, a country where there are efficient, professional pollsters, but certainly are the fewest, while the rest work for the contractor's wishes..
And even when Scioli enjoys the support of a strong government and its resources, for example this Wednesday at the end of the campaign and trespassing electoral law, Cristina Fernandez announced a 12.5% increase and other benefits for pensioners, the primaries will give him a clear idea of his chances next October.
In effect under Argentine law the winning candidate needs 45% of votes or 40% plus a ten points difference over the runner-up to avoid a runoff a month later. Reliable opinion polls are indicating that this is yet not clear and could mean the other losing candidates could decide to gang up and have a good chance of knocking out Scioli, given the fact that the majority of the Argentine electorate is clearly split when it comes to Kirchnerism, with no middle ground.
Something of this kind happened to Macri with his chosen successor in the City of Buenos Aires. Rodriguez Larreta almost made the 50% valid votes in the first round, so faced a run off. Opinion polls showed him ahead by at least ten points but on that surprising Sunday, he just managed to squeeze by with less than two percentage points. What happened? All the losing parties teamed up and voted for the challenger, who finally lost, but left Macri's coveted presidential image with several bumps.
To everybody's surprise Macri who incarnated free markets and the private sector, came up with a speech which praised and promised to keep many of the 'good' things from the current administration, which triggered a windfall of ironic criticisms from Cristina Fernandez and her acolytes. Macri suddenly became MaKri!!.
Scioli will count with the support of Cristina Fernandez leadership and the grass roots organization of Peronism, Argentina's hegemonic political force, in all the country but particularly in the province of Buenos Aires which with 35% of the electorate, is decisive for any presidential aspiration. However Scioli, unless he has a clear difference, fears a similar situation to that of Macri's successor in Argentina's capital.
Furthermore, so far the Kirchnerite government has managed to control the straight-jacketed economy, including inflation, somehow the dollar while pumping money with no support to pay for the deficit and labor contracts. But Argentina's main and almost only partner for manufactured goods, Brazil, is in recession and the president Dilma Rousseff could be facing impeachment before the end of the year.
Similarly it is not mystery that the next Argentine government will have to implement some orthodox economics to the 'K model' and Argentines who rarely trust their currency could suddenly decide to run for the US dollar. This will much depend on the degree of confidence Scioli can transmit and how orderly Peronism behaves in anticipation of changes.
A bad omen of this has been the primary in Buenos Aires province where two Victory Front candidates are disputing Scioli's post as governor. One of them is faithful cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez, the ingenious bureaucrat who manages, openly and looking straight into the eyes support and justify the unsupportable, and Julian Dominguez head of the Lower House and former Agriculture minister.
The fight has turned nasty, because last Sunday an investigative report by journalist Jorge Lanata accused Fernandez of being the famous and mysterious 'walrus' accused of heading an ephedrine mafia that dominates much of the drugs business in the province of Buenos Aires. Ephedrine is a chemical used for the refining of cocaine and the narcotics business in that province is not only of great concern to US authorities, but to Pope Francis himself, who effectively lived in Buenos Aires and through the Catholic Church network of free meals and shelters has a very good idea of what is going on.
Anibal Fernandez reacted immediately saying it was all a 'set up' of Lanata in combination with none else but Dominguez, the other governor hopeful competing with him. The program, witnesses and claims seemed so serious that the rest of the political spectrum in Argentina asked for Fernandez removal and an in depth investigation into the accusations. In effect there were three homicides linked to the ephedrine mafia and never properly resolved.
So serious was the incident that Cristina Fernandez, Scioli and the administration's heavy weights had to come out in support of the cabinet chief. Not a promising forecast, but on Sunday voters will be deciding.