Recently I wrote about Argentina’s presidential election, which turned out to be an upset – not in terms of who finished first, but in that it will require a November 22 runoff to decide the ultimate victor, the semi-official favorite Daniel Scioli or the insurgent Mauricio Macri. That sounds fairly straightforward, but the process of determining who will eventually occupy the Casa Rosada presidential palace (pictured below) is not quite so simple.
Argentina elects the president by popular vote, but the first round had multiple candidates. By the country’s peculiar electoral rules, a single candidate needs only 45 percent to win outright, or more than 40 percent with a ten-point advantage over his (or her) closest runner-up. In the end, Scioli won 37.08 percent, Macri 34.15 percent, and dissident Peronist Sergio Massa 21.39 percent; several minor candidates totaled less than eight percent.
That raises potentially interesting questions as to how precise the results might be. There has been little or no indication of dishonesty in ballot-counting but, in an election with more than 25 million voters, a minor miscount could put a candidate above or below the threshold for victory. The margins were pretty clear this time, but it’s easy to imagine a future scenario that would require multiple recounts.
Still, the close race necessitated the runoff in which, again, it’s still possible the winner will not have a majority – even though there are only two candidates. While voting remains obligatory, dissenters can cast their vote en blanco – a blank protest voted that gets counted, and some certainly will. Leftist candidate Nicolás del Caño, who got barely three percent of the vote, has urged his supporters to do so.
Does it much matter who wins? Both candidates claim to be market-friendly, but that’s relative – it would be hard to be less market-friendly than outgoing president Cristina Fernández, who succeeded her husband Néstor Kirchner in the office (Scioli was Kirchner’s vice-president before winning the governorship of Buenos Aires province, the most populous in the country, and has Fernández’s nominal support). In an op-ed in this morning’s New York Times, Argentine journalist Uki Goñi (whom I know casually) analyzes the possibilities.
Both Scioli and Macri have indicated they will not reverse the current government’s generous social welfare policies, but take the issue of inflation more seriously. For foreign visitors, the most important change may be the eventual elimination of the “dollar clamp” exchange controls that make travel more complex – both candidates appear to agree on this.
As it happens, I may be in Argentina (though not in Buenos Aires) by the date of the runoff. Polls suggest Macri will win, but polls proved unreliable in the first round, indicating that Scioli would win easily, probably without a runoff. Still, whoever wins, he’ll almost certainly be superior to most if not all of the Republican clown car candidates who have paraded across North American TV screens in their recent debates.