Argentina’s main opposition coalition is beset by infighting that puts at risk what would otherwise be a landslide election victory for the business-friendly group, according to a top local pollster.
“The opposition should easily win this election,” said Alejandro Catterberg, director of Buenos Aires-based polling firm Poliarquía. “Instead, we have a lot of uncertainty, especially because its strategy is wrong.”
While Catterberg’s base case remains that the pro-business bloc Juntos por el Cambio will win this year’s general election, doubts are ballooning. A bitter primary battle between its two presidential hopefuls means that whoever eventually becomes the candidate may fail to retain all the votes currently split between them, he said.
Candidates Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Patricia Bullrich face off in the August 13 primary that will define who goes onto Argentina’s October 22 general election. About 30 percent of those supporting either Rodríguez Larreta or Bullrich say they won’t vote for the other candidate after the primary, Catterberg said, citing his polls.
One of Rodríguez Larreta’s advisers said his team is losing confidence that, if he wins the primary, Bullrich and her supporters would back him in October. The adviser, who asked not to be named to speak candidly, conceded that the party’s polarising primary could cost it what he called the easiest election to win.
Bullrich has justified the current power struggle by saying the primary vote will determine much more than the opposition candidate.
“It’s clear that there’s a strong debate and tension because whoever wins our primary will very likely be the next president of Argentina,” she said during a television interview Monday.
Rodríguez Larreta’s press office declined to comment, while representatives for Bullrich didn’t provide comment.
A spiralling economic crisis compounded by inflation running at more than 100 percent a year has hurt re-election prospects for the ruling Peronist coalition of President Alberto Fernández and Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. It has also given the opposition a clear path to victory, one that some investors consider likely to remain open regardless of the political drama.
“The opposition’s infighting will get resolved after the primary,” said Fernando Losada, managing director at Oppenheimer & Co. “Those who today say they won’t vote for Patricia or Horacio are actually more worried about repeating a Kirchner government.”
But even the Peronists, for years plagued by their own infighting, set aside differences in June to unite behind Economy Minister Sergio Massa as their candidate. On the other end of the political spectrum, far-right contender Javier Milei is pulling some votes away from the main opposition coalition.
Meanwhile, Rodríguez Larreta and Bullrich have grown more vitriolic in their mutual attacks. Bullrich’s candidate for governor in one Argentine province has said she won’t back Rodríguez Larreta’s candidate, citing “moral and ethical differences.”
Last week, Rodríguez Larreta lambasted Bullrich’s campaign by tying her proposals to those of former president Mauricio Macri.
“She proposes the same model that already failed in Argentina,” he said in a radio interview.
Bullrich doubled down in an interview with Clarín newspaper, calling Rodríguez Larreta an “opportunist” willing to “do anything for a vote.” Previously, Bullrich had criticised Rodríguez Larreta for being friends with Massa, saying their opposition coalition should not be a “formless amoeba.”
One open question is where do Rodríguez Larreta or Bullrich voters go after the primary if they don’t support the other. While some pollsters see a bloc of Rodríguez Larreta’s centrist-minded voters migrating toward Massa and Bullrich’s far-right supporters backing Milei, Catterberg says those votes could fragment across the political spectrum.
Despite all their problems, the Peronists “avoided the worst scenario possible for them of going into an internal battle attacking each other,” Catterberg added. “The opposition coalition did not. If they do poorly, many of their leaders are going to have to pay the consequences.”
by Manuela Tobias, Bloomberg