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Argentina’s Presidential Candidates Promise Calm After the Storms of the Kirchner Era

Although the top three candidates set themselves apart from the "intensity" of Kirchnerismo, they still share its political roots.
October 24, 2015, 2:10pm
Imagen por Natacha Pisarenko/AP

The favourite to win is a former offshore racer who is now governor of the agricultural province of Buenos Aires. His closest rivals are a former soccer club director who turned to politics in middle age and a congressman who has worked his way steadily up the political ranks.

Daniel Scioli, Mauricio Macri and Sergio Massa — the three leading candidates in Argentina's presidential elections on Sunday —have contrasting personal stories, but they all embrace similar electoral platforms designed to send messages of calm.

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"After 12 years of the intense governments of Kirchnerismo, people are now looking for a different type of leadership," Juan Germano, the director of Isonomía Consultores, told VICE News.

He was referring to the personalized and confrontational style that have marked both the two terms of outgoing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her predecessor and late husband Néstor Kirchner. All three leading candidates, for example, have made it clear, or at least heavily hinted, that they will seek an agreement with the so-called "vulture funds" that bought up Argentinian debt and which President Fernández has repeatedly blasted over the years.

"There's no place now for that kind of intensity," Germano underlined.

Related: How Crazy Are Argentina President's Hints of a US Plot to Remove Her?

But if the electorate is looking to turn down the volume, they are not necessarily seeking a complete break with the Kirchner era. Scioli's status as favourite to win on Sunday owes much to the backing of outgoing president Fernández.

Running as the candidate of the Front for Victory party, Scioli has about 38 percent of the vote according to most opinion polls. Macri, the capital's mayor and candidate of the Republican Proposal party, is trailing him by around eight percentage points. Congressman Massa of the Renovation Front is ten points further behind.

Three other candidates have been polling in single digits.

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To avoid a second round runoff on November 22, Scioli's vote on Sunday would need to top 45 percent or be over 40 percent with a ten point lead over his nearest rival.

After leaving his sporting career, Scioli entered politics in the 1990s during the presidency of Carlos Menem. He rose to prominence as a vice president for Néstor Kirchner between 2003 and 2007, and has governed the province of Buenos Aires for the past eight years.

But there have also been moments of tension with the Férnandez presidency as when he refused to take her side in the government's feud with the powerful media group Clarín.

According to Mariel Fornoni, director of consulting agency Management and Fit, Scioli got Fernández's backing for this election only because she was unable to find a good candidate with "a purer form of Kirchnermismo."

But if Scioli's reputation for negotiation and avoidance of controversy can sit uneasily with his role as oficialista candidate, it is also a combination that has helped turn him into the front runner.

"I am going to do all I possibly can to achieve a better future with my style and tenacity and with the lessons of sport, which has been the school of my life," Scioli said at his closing campaign rally last week.

In the same speech, however, he also acknowledged how much he owes to the outgoing president. "She will leave office on December 10th leaving behind an ordered and less indebted country with social peace," he said.

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Scioli's nearest rival Macri, meanwhile, has sought to carve out an image of being somewhat more modern and democratic than the other candidates.

Born into a rich family he began his political career only after a successful business career and a period as director for the Boca Juniors soccer team. He won elections to be mayor of the capital in 2007.

Trailing in third place, congressman Massa is the only member of the top three who has been willing to risk leaving the middle ground with proposals such as sending the army to combat the growing problem of drug trafficking in Argentina.

In his early 40s Massa is much younger than Scioli and Macri, who are both approaching 60. A career politician he was President Fernández's chief of staff between 2008 and 2009, though he distanced himself from the president in the subsequent years and now claims to represent "anti-Kirchnerismo."

According to Fornoni, whatever the subtle distinctions they all "occupy the same political space" originally carved out by Juan Domingo Perón, founder of the Justicialista party, from which Kirchners also come.

"Us Peronists are like cats," Perón once said. "When it looks like we're fighting we are actually reproducing."

Related: The Death of a Prosecutor: Argentina's Kirchner Accuses Nisman of Ties to Vulture Fund Manager

Follow Gaston Cavanagh on Twitter: @gastoncavanagh