BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri and his ideological opponent and predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, have shaken up the electoral landscape with surprising alliances that have swallowed up political alternatives ahead of presidential elections being held this year.
One month after Fernandez, in power from 2007-2015, triggered political earthquake by announcing that she would run for vice president in a formation headed by Alberto Fernandez, one of her former cabinet chiefs, Macri made his own move.
Just like his bitter rival, the incumbent took to social media to announce his campaign running mate: Miguel Angel Pichetto, a Peronist who is the leader of the largest opposition block in the Senate.
Until Tuesday, Pichetto had been one of the mainstays of the Federal Alternative, a group that is composed of Peronist leaders who have become disenchanted with Kirchnerism and which has practically imploded after the surprising moves made by Macri and Fernandez.
“This move by Macri and Cristina, the two leaders of the “crack” within Argentine society, has contained the rest of the field, suffocating their chances to try different alternatives,” political analyst, Jorge Arias, of think tank Polilat, told EFE.
Andres Gilio, director of the think tank Opina Argentina, agrees that both Macri and Fernandez have chosen to pursue votes from the political center, represented by Federal Alternative.
“They scavenged the votes,” Gilio said.
Just like in a chess match, the former president and current Senator, Fernandez made a masterful move in choosing someone with the capacity for dialogue and persuasion with sectors that had been bruised by Kirchnerism.
She approached Sergio Massa, her former cabinet chief, who had distanced himself but who now is on the verge of sealing an electoral alliance with her.
“This pushes Massa further towards Kirchnerism,” Gilio said.
Massa was another of the pillars of the increasingly irrelevant Federal Alternative, which now can only count on the leadership of the governor of the northern province of Salta, Juan Manuel Urtubey.
According to Arias, Fernandez’ move means “the government started panicking when it saw that it was losing reliable segments of the voter landscape, and it started to try to gather support from smaller sectors that could improve Macri’s chances.”
The conservative “Propuesta Republicana” (Pro) led by Macri arrived at the Casa Rosada as part of the front “Cambiemos,” which was also comprised of the Coalicion Civica (Civic Coalition) and the Union Civica Radical (Radical Civic Union).
Strong opposition to Macri’s policies began to arise at the heart of the UCR, but those voices were appeased they chose to remain within the coalition in the hopes that the president would choose a radical running mate.
That option was roundly rejected with Tuesday’s election of Pichetto, which has left more the radical elements on the margins.
Pichetto’s nomination has also had an impact within Pro, although party verticalism will surely limit voices that go against the Peronist leader, considered a controversial figure by Macri supporters after the Peronist leader blocked a Senate request to lift the parliamentary immunity, Cristina Fernandez, who was implicated in several corruption cases.
“Pichetto is another person who was left with very few better options other than surrender to Macri, someone he was supposed to be trying to fight. It’s a sad ending,” Arias said.
Everything is geared to an election landscape that will be more polarized than ever.
Although doubts remain over whether the new landscape could eventually benefit one of the few candidates who are left in the middle ground, such as Peronist Roberto Lavagna, Economy minister between 2002 and 2005.
“Maybe Lavagna will be the one who ends up capitalizing on both moves. Being the only one left in the center could end up benefiting him, that remains to be seen,” Gilio said.