President Mauricio Macri is heading into the last-chance saloon, as his bid to turn around Argentina’s election enters a crucial stage.
On Sunday night, the Juntos por el Cambio leader will take the stage at the Universidad Nacional del Litoral in Santa Fe as the 2019 presidential debates gets underway.
The omens are not good for the president, after opinion polls this week showed that after a fortnight of “#SíSePuede” campaign tour, his Frente de Todos rival Alberto Fernández has now stretched his lead to over 20 points.
However, pollsters were way off last time out in the August 11 PASO primaries, in which the opposition Peronist challenger emerge with a more than 15-point lead over the incumbent.
Tomorrow’s event, beginning at 9pm and lasting 145 minutes, will see the six presidential candidates who cleared the 1.5-percent threshold in August’s PASO primaries face-off.
The debate, the first to be held since the passage of 2016 legislation making the candidates’ participation mandatory, will be divided into four parts, each with its own cluster of issues – international relations, the economy and finances, education and health and human rights and gender.
Each candidate will have a 45-second introduction, a one-minute long closing statement. For each section, they will have two minutes without interruption, followed by a further minute to pose questions and offer a closing statement. Some onlookers have expressed dissatisfaction at what is expected to be limited interaction between the candidates. While they can pose each other questions, candidates will be under no obligation to answer them.
Macri’s main strength is expected to lie in the first of these themes, with the president set to detail how he brought Argentina back into the world with last year’s G20 Leaders Summit and this year’s European Union-Mercosur agreement. Fernández will probably focus his criticisms on the president’s controversial return to the International Monetary Fund, while proposing renegotiation rather than default.
But in the next section Macri will face an uphill task, especially since the latest opinion poll shows 70 percent of the respondents holding him responsible for the economic crisis, rather than his upset PASO defeat as he believes. Fernández is expected to make the most hay here, combining criticisms of Macri’s record with his own alternatives such as a wage-price agreement against inflation and lower interest rates.
Both education and health have been orphans of the campaign debate so far with little word on what tomorrow will bring here. On gender issues Macri has sacrificed some ground by adopting a firm pro-life stance in the abortion debate in order to wrest votes from one of his five debate opponents tomorrow (who are all male), Juan José Gómez Centurión, thus waiving his boasting rights for having submitted this issue to Congress last year.
Apart from Macri and Fernández, tomorrow’s sextet will consist of Gómez Centurión and José Luis Espert, both to the right of the two main candidates, and Nicolás Del Caño on the left. Consenso Federal candidate Roberto Lavagna claims to be the closest to the middle ground of them all.
Next Sunday’s second debate at the Law Faculty of the Universidad de Buenos Aires will have an agenda of issues which are seen as highly important, without being as central as tomorrow’s. They are security, followed by jobs, production and infrastructure, federalism and finally, institutional quality and social development.
A third debate, if required, between the two candidates in a potential run-off is scheduled for November 17, again in Buenos Aires.
The latest opinion poll, issued this week by the Clivajes consultancy firm, gave Fernández 53.7 percent of the vote as against 33.2 percent for Macri. This polarisation has Lavagna struggling to maintain his August PASO vote of 8.37 percent.
Macri’s campaign strategists have calculated all along that their best chance lies in polarising the vote against Kirchnerism, but the polarisation is currently working in favour of Frente de Todos. Only 16.4 percent of respondents blamed Peronism for the crisis, the survey found.
In Buenos Aires Province almost 80 percent of future voters identified their main problems as economic with poverty (26.1 percent), unemployment (23.8 percent) and inflation (22.3 percent) in the forefront.
Finally, 72.8 percent of respondents said they believed Fernández will be the next president as against 25.1 percent for Macri.
A second poll, by Gustavo Córdoba & Asociados, had different percentages here – 64.6 percent to 33.2 percent – with voting intentions for Fernández at 50.3 percent as against 31.8 percent for Macri.