Friday 20 July 2018

Argentines to vote in presidential primaries to replace Cristina Fernandez

Cristina Fernandez and her late husband have dominated Argentine politics for 12 years
Cristina Fernandez and her late husband have dominated Argentine politics for 12 years

Voters in Argentina are to take part in open primaries for presidential candidates to replace Cristina Fernandez.

She and her late husband dominated Argentine politics for 12 years, focusing on social welfare programmes for the poor at home while often employing combative rhetoric and protectionist policies with other nations.

Now citizens are getting a chance to help decide whether those policies are likely to continue in the South American nation of 41 million as they cast ballots in open primaries for presidential candidates who have all but sealed the nominations in their respective parties.

For the candidates vying to replace Ms Fernandez, the primaries will help them judge how their campaigns are faring ahead of the October 25 general elections - and how closely they should align themselves to the social welfare policies of her political movement, known as Kirchnerismo.

Daniel Scioli, the governor of the Buenos Aires province and a former vice president, is Ms Fernandez's successor candidate.

He has praised her policies but also promised to make reforms where necessary and be more amicable in dealings with other countries.

Mauricio Macri, the outgoing mayor of Buenos Aires and former president of Boca Junior football club, is the main opposition candidate.

He has promised to make the country more business friendly and lift restrictions on citizens' ability to buy US dollars - a promise the government and some economists say is not realistic.

Meanwhile, Sergio Massa, who has held cabinet and elective posts and broke with Ms Fernandez, is running on his own ticket and promises to jail corrupt politicians.

Mr Scioli has led the pack in the polls for several months, and is up by as many as 10 points over Mr Macri in the most recent surveys.

Ms Fernandez is constitutionally barred from running for a third term. Her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, was elected in 2003 and served one term before she ran.

"For the first time since 2003, we are going to have elections with two candidates who have a good chance of winning," said Patricio Giusto, director of Political Diagnostic, an Argentine think tank.

Candidates will also vie for nominations for several governor and congressional slots. Only candidates with at least 1.5% of the vote in their respective races can continue to the general elections, effectively eliminating many minority party candidates.

The primaries come at a time when the nation is struggling with numerous economic problems.

Independent analysts put inflation at over 30% and the Argentine peso has slide sharply against the American dollar in recent months. A long-standing dispute with a group of US hedge funds has kept foreign investors away.

The major candidates have addressed these issues, making promises such as keeping inflation under 10%, but failing to detail how such reforms would be achieved.

Political analysts say the margin between Mr Scioli and Mr Macri will be key. If Mr Scioli wins by a significant margin, his campaign would be on pace to win the October election with at least the 45% of the vote needed to avoid a run-off.

If Mr Macri wins the primary or is close to Mr Scioli, a run-off in November will be more likely. That would benefit Mr Macri, who would probably pick up many opposition and independent votes.

Press Association

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