In some eyes, the tensions are typical of the immediate run-up to defining lists for the upcoming elections. To others, a much deeper debate is playing out, one to define the opposition’s political profile.
One way or another, Juntos por el Cambio is in limbo, one which is raising the temperature of internal tensions. A lack of definitions over where some of its main leaders will run for office, fights over its public stances on hot-topic issues and the lack of a clear leadership to establish order are the keys to a challenging panorama for Argentina’s main opposition coalition.
The broad lines have yet to be defined and nor can we only talk about a dispute between ‘hawks’ and ‘doves.’ The intriguing questions multiply: Where will María Eugenia Vidal run, if indeed she does? Will there be primaries against Patricia Bullrich in the City? Who will head the list in Buenos Aires Province? Is anybody, or any grouping, drawing up the lists in each district? Can the neo-liberals be added in? What will happen with ‘republican Peronism’? Everything contributes to the disarray.
One name contributes more than any other to the lack of definitions, that of former Buenos Aires Province governor María Eugenia Vidal, who is yet to finally define her role in this election, only recognising that she is willing to “pitch in.”
Buenos Aires Province would seem Vidal’s natural habitat but she shows signs of preferring the Capital. This would permit her to aspire to succeed City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta in the future or even position herself as a presidential hopeful. In provincial territory, in contrast, she could be exposing herself to a fresh defeat.
But if Vidal goes for the City, a primary against Bullrich becomes inevitable. “It’s difficult to compete against somebody with nothing to lose,” warns a leader close to the former security minister.
Deep down ex-president Mauricio Macri shares this lack of enthusiasm for PASO primaries, which is why he pushes Vidal to run again in BA Province. “It will be read as a primary between Mauricio and Horacio,” they reason in Macrista circles.
The former president has no intention of appearing to fight Rodríguez Larreta but would prefer to figure as above all factional disputes. “He still thinks himself as the owner of PRO, not its founder,” describes one party source, throwing in the further business analogy: “But he no longer has a majority of the shares.”
Elisa Carrió has joined this debate with her new logic of a moderate message. Last weekend, interviewed by Radio Continental, she asked for any primary “to be as civilised as possible.” Many in the opposition tremble at the very thought of PASO primaries between Bullrich and Vidal, and the wreckage it could leave behind. For PRO, the precedent was Rodríguez Larreta versus Gabriela Michetti in 2015, which left many wounds despite having been civilised.
All options remain open. That’s why the voices insisting on Vidal running in BA Province are growing.
“She would boss everybody about,” deplores a legislator, adding: “And if she loses to Patricia? She said she wants the presidency…” In parallel, Rodríguez Larreta already has Deputy Mayor Diego Santilli ready to head up things in BA territory beyond the City.
Carrió has chipped in, appearing to be a candidate “to guarantee unity.” Others interpret that in reality the aim is to block those she dislikes, such as ex-speaker Emilio Monzó, from running. In that May 29 interview, she showed herself ready to incorporate “republican Peronism,” with Miguel Ángel Pichetto in mind. Santilli, Carrió and Pichetto are the leading prospects to head lists in the minds of many Juntos por el Cambio leaders.
But together with the ‘Grupo Dorrego’ (as the Greater Buenos Aires PRO mayors call themselves), Vicente López Mayor Jorge Macri (cousin of the ex-president) is digging in his heels, opposition the entry of Santilli. He threatens to back Bullrich if Rodríguez Larreta insists on imposing his deputy mayor.
The problem is that mayors, legislators and leaders tend to talk to both rival sectors. Their alignments are not wholly defined and their common history makes it difficult for many to choose.
One leader recently received messages from the other side after appearing in the photo of a meeting. “Everything’s on ice and the relationship gets colder and colder,” he confesses.
With all eyes on City and Province, the rest of the country seems to be ignored, above all because there is no Juntos por el Cambio leader to call the shots. Within PRO, Macri is seeking to lead the whole country. “He wants senators and deputies who respond directly to him, something he doesn’t have today,” interprets one of his followers.
Nevertheless, the former president’s latest foray in Córdoba was far from positioning him as a skilled architect of lists. Macri again praised Peronist Governor Juan Schiaretti and presented his former tourism minister Gustavo Santos as his senatorial (and subsequently gubernatorial) candidate. He thus achieved the impossible – unifying all Córdoba Radicals (and even national lawmaker Luis Juez) against him.
“Juntos por el Cambio had no candidate with the profile to govern Córdoba, we’ve had first-class leaders who have done great parliamentary work but the profile to govern is something different,” Macri told La Voz del Interior in an interview with Mario Negri, his Congress caucus chief and one of the few Radicals not to criticise him when he lost the presidency, no doubt listening gratefully. A primary in Córdoba now seems more likely.
Meanwhile, the Radicals seem to be silent partners in the infighting. In the Capital, Senator Martín Lousteau has an understanding with Rodríguez Larreta but the City Mayor has sealed many deals that have yet to be paid off. The dispute with Bullrich gives him increasingly less room to pay them. Maxi Abad, aligned with Vidal and Rodríguez Larreta, now heads the Buenos Aires Province Radical Committee but with no heavyweight candidates of his own, neuroscientist Facundo Manes, the trump card for the Radicals, has declined to run for the umpteenth time. Radical party chairman Alfredo Cornejo is concentrating on a senatorial nomination in Mendoza to raise his profile from there. Jujuy Radical Governor Gerardo Morales fancies the presidency but is largely limited to his province. Meanwhile the Radicals increasingly fear that their caucus will continue to shrink.
“It seems to me that a lot of energy is being placed in the 2023 race without much idea what to do in 2021,” Negri said in a radio interview last week. He proposes that Juntos por El Cambio throw everything into this election so that Frente de Todos does not gain a majority in the Chamber of Deputies.
He is not wrong. Many are thinking of 2023 and the future profile of Juntos por el Cambio. Rodríguez Larreta insists on moderation, above all because he is convinced that if he reaches the Presidency, he will need an agreement with Peronism.
“It’s the hawks who make peace because first there is a war to be won,” reply Bullrich’s people.