Argentine primary election looks to be a Governmental victory

Cristina Kirchner & Mauricio Macri

Argentine electoral legislation makes it compulsory for all candidates to be nominated through an open Argentine primary election — the Spanish acronym being PASO — held on the same day all over the country for all political parties and coalitions. Voting is not only a right but also an obligation and this rule also applies to the primary elections.

The result is that the PASO serves as a clear indication of the voter alignment in favour of each political expression.

On 13 August, 74.44% of all the eligible electorate cast their votes. In most cases, they did so for the only ticket registered by the party or coalition of their preference in their respective district. Therefore, in such cases, the PASO did not serve the purpose of a primary election by choosing between competing nominees. It became a way to show their party preference in advance of the actual election in October.

A second subtler, but perhaps more important, effect of the PASO is to operate as a first ballot of a virtual two-ballot electoral system. At times in which the electorate is divided between drastically conflicting views of what the country is and should become, it serves to determine which are the two strongest candidates and venues. The real election then shows greater concentration of votes around these two poles, resembling a so-called ballotage.

The Argentine Senate is composed of 72 members while the lower house is formed of 257 deputies. If the votes are distributed in exactly the same way as in the PASO, the October elections would result in the pro-government Cambiemos alliance gaining an additional nine Senate seats, taking its total to 24. Senators from the Peronist parties would, in spite of losing seven seats, still be the most numerous with 41 members. Former president Cristina Kirchner (2007-2015) would become one of them.

The Peronists are, however, already divided into several factions. It remains to be seen how many of them would want to align themselves behind the former president after such results. In the Chamber of Deputies the Cambiemos alliance would add 18 deputies to its present bloc and become — with a total of 104 deputies — the largest group, but still a minority, in the Chamber.

The conclusion is that — although still lacking the majority in either house — the government’s position in Congress would be greatly strengthened. This new situation would make it much easier for President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) to reach agreements with other congressional forces in order to pass new laws.

The common denominator of the proposed new Argentine bills is the need to abrogate or amend legislation that has hampered Argentina’s competitiveness and capacity to attract both domestic and foreign investments. Cristina Kirchner’s allies in both chambers will continue to oppose such moves but it is highly likely that her bloc will be unable to stop most of them.

This is an excerpt from an article in this month’s Argentina Strategic Brief – for more information please contact us at