By AQ – Macri and Kirchner are garnering the most attention ahead of Argentina’s October vote. But there’s room for a dark horse.
Election Date: Oct. 27
Format: Two rounds. If no candidate receives at least 45% of the votes in the first round, or 40% with a 10-point lead over second place, the two leading candidates will compete in a runoff on Nov. 24.
Mauricio Macri, 60, president
“Real change requires going through difficulties.”
How he got here: A well-connected businessman who served two terms as Buenos Aires mayor, Macri made history in 2015 as the first president in a century elected from outside Argentina’s historically dominant political movements, the Peronists and Radicals. Pro-business pragmatism and commitment to fiscal integrity helped Macri’s coalition win big in midterm elections, but a currency crisis in 2018 dashed any certainty over his reelection. Some attribute the downturn to Macri’s insistence on “gradualism”—his strategy for avoiding the pain of overly harsh reforms.
Why he might win: Macri benefits from a divided opposition, whose chief forces are the movement led by former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and a coalition of Peronists who are critical of her. His best shot at reelection is a runoff against the polarizing Kirchner.
Why he might lose: Macri’s efforts to fix the macroeconomic distortions he inherited have floundered. Inflation was worse in 2018 than it ever was under Kirchner. Other moderate candidates threaten to steal votes he needs to make a runoff.
Who supports him: Business, the agricultural sector
some unions. Middle class and poor voters who have benefited from his public works spending as well as subsidies he has introduced.
What he would do: Macri will run on corruption and security. But if re-elected, he’ll need to decisively shore up Argentina’s fiscal situation. He’s the candidate most likely to attempt a politically difficult reform of Argentina’s pension system.
NOTE: AQ asked a dozen nonpartisan experts on Latin America to help us identify where each candidate stands on two spectrums: left wing versus right wing, and nationalist versus globalist. We’ve published the average response, with a caveat: Platforms evolve, and so do candidates.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, 66, senator
“The most serious irregularities have been revealed, carried out by the judge and prosecutor to try to invent evidence against me.”
How she got here: Kirchner served two terms as president after the first term of her husband, the late President Néstor Kirchner. Inheriting an economy in shambles, the Kirchners drove a strong recovery. However, later years saw rising inflation and poverty as she seized private pensions and antagonized investors. Facing a growing list of indictments for corruption, some see a return to the presidency as Kirchner’s best way to escape prosecution.
Why she might win: Her claims that accusations are politically motivated may resonate with voters, given Argentina’s history of politicized courts. Continued economic trouble would also boost her chances, especially since poorer Argentines remember her presidency fondly. Poverty grew nationally in 2018, with the sharpest spike in greater Buenos Aires
, where Kirchner’s base is strongest.
Why she might lose: Her ceiling is low. For many, Kirchner is synonymous with cronyism and instability. A good portion of voters
the recession to be the fallout of a mess Macri inherited from Kirchner.
Who supports her: Working-class voters on the outskirts of the capital and in the vast province of Buenos Aires. Social movements, teachers and factions of the church.
What she would do: Reinstate utility subsidies and revert to the protectionism that characterized her presidency. She’ll likely put her own stamp on Argentina’s IMF deal, rather than walk away from it completely.
Roberto Lavagna, 77, former economy minister
“There is a strong demand for getting away from what Macri and Cristina are offering: a deep divide without the slightest dialogue.”
How he got here: Lavagna took the helm of Néstor Kirchner’s economy ministry in 2002 at the height of Argentina’s worst-ever crisis. The economy recovered under his supervision, though a spike in soy prices didn’t hurt. He was fired in 2005 and two years later ran against Cristina Kirchner in her first run for the presidency, finishing third.
Why he might win: Many consider Lavagna an elder statesman above partisan politics. His tenure as economy minister instilled confidence in many, as did his willingness to call out corruption in Néstor Kirchner’s government — which he said
him his job.
Why he might lose: Lavagna has already lost one presidential election, and this time around he has shown a reluctance to campaign. He said it’s because he wants to be a consensus candidate among anti-Kirchner Peronists, but some attribute it to his age. He lacks charisma, but his biggest challenge will be unifying a divided opposition that ambitious, younger candidates like Juan Manuel Urtubey and Sergio Massa are also coveting.
Who supports him: Peronists who are turned off by Kirchner and want a return to the perceived good old days of the mid-2000s commodities boom.
What he would do: While he’s said he’d renegotiate the IMF deal, investors are optimistic about his relationship with the fund. More on the Keynesian side, Lavagna might increase salaries and the minimum
but shy away from more aggressive reforms.
Juan Manuel Urtubey, 49, governor of Salta
“Argentina’s current system is totally exhausted. The problem didn’t start with Macri or Cristina.”
How he got here: As governor of Salta since 2007, Urtubey has been preparing for the presidency for years. Among Peronist politicians, he’s the closest to Macri — personally and politically — and is selling himself as a similar figure.
Why he might win: He wouldn’t be the first Peronist governor from outside Buenos Aires to come out of nowhere and claim the presidency. A self-defined moderate and a fresh face, his goal is to appeal to the large chunk of voters looking to start over after years defined by the Macri-Kirchner divide.
Why he might lose: Urtubey lacks recognition on a national level, and his centrist, loosely defined message may leave voters wondering what he stands for. Some see his campaign as a test run for a presidential bid in 2023.
Who supports him: So far, not too many people. But if he can surpass Massa and Lavagna and emerge as the candidate for the anti-Kirchner Peronists, he has a shot at winning with the support of “anyone but Macri or Kirchner” voters.
What he would do: Urtubey’s discourse centers on fiscal discipline and restoring confidence in Argentina, and he has suggested he wouldn’t renegotiate the deal with the IMF. He’s proposed several institutional reforms, like moving Argentina to a semi-parliamentary system, which he said will build greater political consensus.
Sergio Massa, 46, former mayor and congressman
“The biggest disappointment for Argentines has been losing the value of the president’s word.”
How he got here: At just 37, Massa earned national recognition when he became Cristina Kirchner’s cabinet chief during her first term. Massa left the position after a year to return to his previous role as mayor of the Buenos Aires suburb of Tigre, and soon after made ripples by publicly criticizing some of Kirchner’s policies. In 2013, he famously split from the president to form his own opposition Peronist coalition, which went on to enjoy success in the ensuing midterms, stoking Massa’s status as a presidential favorite. He finished third in the 2015 election.
Why he might win: Massa benefits from a strong social media presence — he’s taken to filming Facebook live videos on road trips — and may be the best known among the opposition Peronists hoping to break through the Macri-Kirchner polarization.
Why he might lose: Turning on Kirchner when it became advantageous earned Massa a reputation as an opportunist, which has been hard to shake off. He has the highest rejection ratings among candidates. If Lavagna ends up as the candidate for the anti-Kirchner Peronists, Massa may instead run for governor of Buenos Aires province.
Who supports him: Anti-Kirchner Peronists, largely from the province of Buenos Aires.
What he would do: He has promised to renegotiate Argentina’s deal with the IMF, and his party has promoted tough-on-crime legal reforms.
Néstor Kirchner was virtually unknown when elected in 2013 – proof that candidates can come out of nowhere.
How he/she got here: Primaries aren’t until August, and a latecomer could still shake up the race. Possibilities include Axel
, Kirchner’s former economy minister, who could run for her movement if Kirchner doesn’t; Miguel Ángel Pichetto, the leader of the
-Kirchnerist Peronists in the Senate; and Martín Lousteau, a congressman from the Radical party, a member of Macri’s coalition. There is talk that Lousteau may challenge Macri amid rising frustration among Radicals, or even in a primary with moderate Peronists like Lavagna. Other outsiders, like “Chicago Boy” José Luis Espert, have announced candidacies, but are polling quite low.
Why he/she might win: Polls say half of
are willing to vote for someone new, and anyone who can make a runoff with the unpopular Macri has a shot at winning.
Why he/she might lose:
would be weighed down by Kirchner’s baggage. Pichetto isn’t well known, and a lack of charisma contributes to his low poll numbers. For Lousteau, going against Cambiemos’ leader could be highly contentious.
Who supports him/her: To be determined.
What he/she would do: Economic policies range from the far left under
to the far right under Espert, who promises shock austerity to shore up Argentina’s fiscal deficits.