Yesterday's presidential primary election didn't actually count for anything real in Argentina. The major party candidates had already been decided. Instead, it was a symbolic vote where parties were trying to make a statement about their chances of winning two months before the actual election.
In terms of symbolism, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner crushed her divided opposition. CFK won more than 50 percent of the vote, a number that will guarantee her an easy first round win if she can maintain it for another two months. Her main opponents, Ricardo Alfonsin and Eduardo Duhalde, came in a virtual tie for second place with just over 12 percent of the vote each, a pretty poor showing by any standard.
If there was another winner in this primary election, it was Hermes Binner, the Socialist governor of Santa Fe. Binner won 10 percent of the vote, which provided him a media boost, bumped him up into the league of viable opponents, and is giving Alfonsin and Duhalde something else to worry about.
However, even added together, the three of them wouldn't have beaten CFK yesterday. Barring a major shift in the political environment or the economy (which could happen, but is unlikely), the president seems likely to win in October.
For those who are tired of the election horse race news, I was wondering what they are actually fighting over. What are the policy platforms of these candidates? What are the president's opponents proposing that is different from the president's current agenda?
• Starting with the president, she doesn't have much of a campaign platform written online that I can find, but then again, she controls the government. The presidency website has a section with all the various government plans sorted by cabinet ministry. Each one links out to websites where you can find additional information.
• Ricardo Alfonsin has policy proposals in 12 different areas on his campaign site. He also offers a summary of the legislation he has proposed while in the Congress.
• Eduardo Duhalde has a 43-page plan in PDF format that you can download from this page.
• Hermes Binner has 10 policy proposals on his site, but none of them are as detailed as the other candidates.
So what are the candidates supporting that differentiates them from the government? Based on my first reading of their platforms, here's what I found in common among the opposition:
• Zero hunger. I found it notable that all three main opposition candidates place food security and clean water near the top of their agenda.
• Security. Every single candidate mentions the fight against crime and drug trafficking as an important issue. Though I'm not sure any of them are endorsing a significant shift from the current administration, they obviously see this as a weak spot for the president and one in which they promise to do better.
• Transparent government. All three candidates are focused on a transparent government that works for all Argentines. This is a clear shot at the image that CFK has her government work only for her political supporters and that government funds often are diverted that way.
• Energy. It's a bit lower on all three candidate's agenda items, but it's there. The candidates know that people are unhappy with the energy situation in Argentina, particularly the gas cuts during the winter. However, none of them go out on a limb and suggest a major restructuring that would include a decrease in subsidies or an increase in prices. Instead, all three talk about diversifying sources and investing in more production while maintaining the social protections that guarantee people access.
• International relations. It's low on the priority list. All three candidates indicate they want to integrate Argentina better into the world and present a better image, hinting that CFK has clashed with the neighbors a bit too much. Improving Argentine-Brazil relations and Mercosur dominate the discussion on this topic.
• Education. It's on every list, but there is not much to differentiate from the current administration other than "do better."
There are plenty of places where the opposition says the government is doing a poor job of implementing a certain policy and they can do it better (security, energy, education). However, other than the transparent government issue, I don't see anything here where the opposition takes an issue that voters care about and says, "The current government is philosophically wrong and we are going to take this in a completely different direction."
And that is why all the media coverage is about the horse race and the fact CFK is winning it.