Buenos Aires City Mayor Horario Rodríguez Larreta jumpstarted the race for the Casa Rosada on Thursday as he officially unveiled his candidacy for the presidency.
The 57-year-old, seen by many local analysts as the frontrunner in a packed opposition field, will face strong competition in the race to win the nomination. Though many have yet to formally announce their intention, at least two other party allies are expected to compete in the Juntos por el Cambio PASO primaries – former security minister and PRO party chair Patricia Bullrich and opposition deputy María Eugenia Vidal.
In a video announcement that spoke of his desire to “transform” Argentina, Rodríguez Larreta on Thursday sought to distinguish himself from the rest of the field by pitching himself as an ‘anti-grieta’ candidate that would seek dialogue with all political sectors.
"It's not about being president, I want to be a good president. And together to end the hatred and start the path of transformation that Argentina needs," declared the City mayor in the clip shared on social media.
"Many people ask me if I dream of becoming president. It would be an honour, of course. But it is not a place you 'get to.' The presidency has to be the beginning of the path of the great transformation," he said, playing down the idea that Argentina requires a “charismatic leader” to embrace change.
The video was recorded from the start of Ruta Nacional 40, which traverses the country. With a backdrop of a lighthouse and fork in the path behind him, the opposition front-runner lashed out at those who seek to stoke polarisation and reap its political benefits.
"The only ones who benefit from the crack are those who opened it, those who take advantage of it. Those who use it are swindlers. Either we put an end to the rift or the rift puts an end to Argentina," declared Rodríguez Larreta, who described his style of governance as “work, work, work.”
A key opposition leader who has governed the capital for two terms, Rodríguez Larreta is vying for the presidency with a centrist, business-friendly platform as the nation suffers through inflation near 100 percent, poverty affecting close to 40 percent of the population and no access to international debt markets after a sovereign default.
A graduate of Harvard Business School, Rodríguez Larreta, 57, has built a robust campaign staff and largely maintained positive approval ratings of around 50 percent after governing through the pandemic.
Reaction to announcement
Confirmation of Rodríguez Larreta’s intention to secure the nomination for the opposition coalition prompted an immediate reaction, with several key Juntos por el Cambio politicians expressing their support, including Elisa 'Lilita' Carrió, Fernán Quirós, Diego Santilli and Waldo Wolff.
Mauricio Macri, the former president whose support is seen of crucial importance, also backed his ally’s candidacy, though he was careful not to over-extend himself.
“I celebrate and support that Horacio officially submitted his pre-nomination today. I strongly believe in competition. I believe that from the tension produced by the will to win, we always come out on top,” wrote the 2015-2019 head of state in a post on Instagram.
“PRO leaders are now showing up ready to compete transparently, so voters will decide who will be their representative. As a founder of space, I'm proud of this energy. Let's trust the competition and the citizens,” he added.
Macri has not formally declared his intentions, though analysts now expect him not to run for another term in office.
Not everyone stuck to the same script. Rodríguez Larreta’s declaration came just hours after Bullrich, his main rival for the nomination, had lashed out at “lukewarm” opposition leaders and dismissed the idea of dialogue with the coalition’s political rivals, in particular Kirchnerite politicians.
"We have to remove many mafias and many interests, we have to remove those who throw stones, we have to be courageous,” said Bullrich, who did not react to the City mayor’s later announcement.
"Are we going to talk to Aníbal Fernández, who abandons the people of Rosario, [which has been] taken over by the mafias of drug-trafficking and organised crime?" Bullrich asked polemically, listing a host of figures aligned to Kirchnerism and Peronism.
“Are we going to talk to Cristina [Fernández de Kirchner] about how to put an end to corruption? Are we going to talk to [Economy Minister Sergio] Massa, who wants to lower inflation by increasing the deficit? Are we going to talk to [Hugo] Moyano about how to reduce the costs of small businesses so that they can be competitive?” she continued.
Her words prompted strong pushback from her coalition (and surname) ally Esteban Bullrich.
"Dear Patricia Bullrich, let's not confuse things. Building a country with 45 million Argentines is done through dialogue," the former lawmaker posted on her Twitter account. "It takes more courage to talk to those who think differently than to insult them. We have already tried the fight and it didn't work. Let's not fall into the trap, let's change.”
Race heats up
With less than six months until the primaries elections, the fight for the candidacies in Argentina’s two main coalitions is heating up.
As well as his own party allies, hopefuls from the other parties in the opposition coalition – the Unión Cívica Radical and the Coalición Cívica ARI – are also likely to enter the race, including Carrió, Jujuy Province Governor Gerardo Morales and opposition deputy Facundo Manes.
For the ruling coalition, President Alberto Fernández – whose term ends on December 10 – is likely to seek re-election, though he has said he will stand down if Frente de Todos voters want another candidate to run.
The Kirchnerite wing of the front would prefer Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to stand for the nation’s highest office once again, while there has also been speculation over a potential candidacy from Economy Minister Sergio Massa.
Argentina will hold its first round of presidential elections on October 22, with a possible second round on 19 November.
In addition to electing a president and vice-president for a four-year term, Argentines will renew half of the 257-member Chamber of Deputies and one-third of the 72-member Senate in the elections.
If no presidential ticket wins 45 percent of the vote or 40 percent with a difference of at least 10 points from the runner-up, a run-off will decide Argentina’s next head of state.