Election Report: 2011 Argentinian Presidential Primary

by Joshua Tucker on August 17, 2011 · 8 comments

in Election Reports

We are pleased to welcome Argentinian political scientist Natalia C. Del Cogliano with a post-election report on the Argentinian Presidential Primary as part of our continuing series of election reports.

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As in the U.S. since the early 20th century, this 14th of august Argentina implemented for the first time a system in which the nomination of candidates is no longer the responsibility of the political party organizations themselves. But this system is not exactly the same as in the U.S. A system of Open, Simultaneous and Compulsory Primaries (PASO – for its acronym in Spanish-) is now being conducted by the government on behalf of the parties. They are Open: nonpartisan, enabling all voters to choose any party’s candidate they want to vote for; Simultaneous: like in a general election, the pre-candidates of every party are elected the same day; and Compulsory: as in every general elections in Argentina, voting is mandatory for every citizen, therefore involving the general public, and people can cast their ballot for any candidate regardless of party affiliation. If a party doesn’t present pre-candidates –at least one- its candidates cannot participate in the general election this coming October 23rd.

So, the question that arises is: is there any difference between this Primary election and the general one?


The cause of this brand new electoral innovation is the electoral reform sanctioned in December of 2009, when the Congress passed the law N° 26.571 of “Democratization of political representation, transparency and electoral equity”. This important law modified some important rules that define political competition, with the most relevant being an amendment on the electoral system since the recovery of democracy in 1983.

In fact, one of the main points of this law is the introduction of the Primaries – Open, Simultaneous and Obligatory – for every electoral category: president, deputies, senators, governors and mayors. So, this last Sunday August 14th we, Argentineans, selected our candidates for the general election that will be held in October 23rd.

We could choose among 10 pre-candidates for the presidency: Cristina F. de Kirchner ( the current president, Frente para la Victoria), Ricardo Alfonsín (Unión para el Desarrollo Social), Hermes Binner (Frente Amplio Progresista), Eduardo Duhalde (Frente Popular), Elisa Carrió (Coalición Cívica ARI), Adolfo Rodríguez Saá (Compromiso Federal), Jorge Altamira (Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores), Alcira Argumedo (Proyecto Sur), Sergio Pastore (Movimiento de Acción Vecinal), and José Bonacci (Del Campo Popular). The fact is that all these candidates were proclaimed as pre-candidates by a process that the primaries tried to impede: negotiations among the main political figures of each party. Therefore, none of the main parties presented more than one candidate president. Given that this is the case, what was the purpose of this Primary? The answer to this question resides in all the categories other the “president”, for which almost every party had more that one candidate or list (if deputies or senators). Moreover, the primaries defined a threshold that every pre-candidate had to surpass in order to be able to participate in the general election: a minimum of 1.5 % of all the valid votes in the whole country -around 400.000 votes. Of course, some couldn’t make it to the next round: Alcira Argumedo (Proyecto Sur), Sergio Pastore (Movimiento de Acción Vecinal), and José Bonacci (Del Campo Popular), will not be able to participate in October.

Hence, the main objective of these primaries was to set the stage for a clearer situation in October. But what do we mean by a clearer situation? The reduction of the spectrum of candidates for the general election. Then, considering only the presidential category, we can assume the primary elections this last Sunday were something like a first round. So, if in October a second round is needed, we will have had a three-round election.

But my guess is we won’t need a second round for the presidential elections, as far as the primaries showed a very obvious scenario.

Beyond all expectations, President Kirchner won almost all across the Country, obtaining 50.07% of the total votes. As the New York Times put it: “President Cristina F. de Kirchner far outpolled her rivals on Sunday in Argentina’s first national primary, suggesting that she is likely to win re-election easily in the vote on Oct. 23”. Yes, we can already say that’s a fact. No one really thinks anyone else can do it better than Mrs. Kirchner.

Because of the particular two-round electoral system in our country, the winning candidate in October must get at least 45 percent of the vote or at least 40 percent with a lead of 10 points or more over the closest contender to avoid a runoff. Results in the primary indicate that President, Cristina F. de Kirchner, handily exceeded those thresholds. Thus, the results provide a good indicator that Mrs. Kirchner could win the presidency on October 23rd and avoid a runoff.

Moreover, the second, third and forth candidates only obtained 34.66% altogether. Ricardo Alfonsín of the Radical Civic Union Party was second with 12.19% percent of the votes, while a former president, Eduardo Duhalde of a conservative faction of the Peronist Party, was third, with 12.18% percent, a tiny, almost insignificant, difference between them. And Hermes Binner from the Socialist Party was forth with 10.29% of the votes.

The fact is that President Cristina F. de Kirchner obtained more votes than all the other nine candidates of the fractured and inconsistent opposition altogether. The opposition parties should now rethink their strategies. The unappealing discourses and campaigns, and the absence of ideas, were some of the pitfalls of the opposition.

In the general elections of 2007 the president won with a 45% of the votes, obtaining the major advantage that a candidate ever had over the second contender. That year Elisa Carrió went in second place obtaining only 23% of the votes. We still don’t know what’s going to happen this October, but, for now, it seems lilke that a similar scenario will play out.

{ 8 comments }

M August 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Interesting (if a bit odd).

Do I understand correctly: for the chamber of deputies primaries, voters are not selecting candidates (to the party’s general-election list), but rather choosing among competing lists? If so, does that mean there are organized factions within these parties? Otherwise, who puts the primary lists together?

Natalia C. Del Cogliano August 18, 2011 at 11:20 am

Dear Matthew,
Thank you very much for your comment! Of course it could sound a bit odd for you in the U.S… :)
Yes, for the chamber of deputies’ primaries we are choosing among competing lists…but the thing is that the final composition of the party’s general-election list is defined by each party according to its statute or by-law. That is: each statute establishes a particular system of proportional distribution to determine the number of candidates of each primary list that will integrate the general-election list. So it depends on every party, which puts the primary lists together.
Needless to say, it doesn’t mean that parties have really organized and clear factions inside. That may not be the case in our party system.

Matthew Shugart August 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Uh, “M” is for Matthew Shugart.

Not sure what happened there in the “name” field of my first comment.

Matthew Shugart August 18, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Natalia, thanks for your clarification. So the primary is not decisive anyway? Or must parties use some form of proportionality among primary lists, but with the specific rules left to the party? I find this really intriguing!

By “odd” I meant the fact that you could have a presidential “primary” in which no party had more than one (pre-)candidate. That’s odd not only by US standards, but theoretically. I mean, if candidates and their supporters can appeal to voters in a primary, why would contenders not go to the primary to settle who would be the standard bearer?

I suppose the answer is somehow related to the weakness of party labels in Argentina. After all, a label has to have value in order for candidates to compete for the right to use it in the general election.

Natalia C. Del Cogliano August 18, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Thank you Matthew,
It is intriguing, absolutely. But, as you say, parties apply some form of proportionality among primary lists. And that proportionality depends on their specific rules.
I also agree with you about the “odd” thing in this system of primaries for the presidential category. As I put in the report, the question is if, in the end, it really is a system of primary elections or not exactly that. Of course it’s counterintuitive in standard and theoretical terms. The thing is that no other factions appeared or tried to appeal to voters in these primaries. It seems it has been strategically better for parties to reach a consensus before the primaries.
Related to that, we know that the new electoral rules cannot force reality to be as it’s supposed to be. Hopefully, time will make it different. We, as citizens and political parties, need time to become skilled at how to behave within this new legal framework.
Finally, the weakness of party labels is an issue in Argentina, and it is strongly related to the possibility of having more than one real pre-candidate for president in a primary election within one party. But one main goal of the electoral reform is to strengthen political organizations and to reduce the number of labels that -supposedly- don’t mean much in terms of representation.
I think, or at least hope, that the introduction of a system of primaries will lead parties to construct stronger and, in the long term, more representative political organizations.

Lucila August 18, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Impecable informe para los que quieren conocer la situación en nuestro país.
Yo agregaría una información para los extranjeros: que el voto cruzó sectores de la sociedad absolutamente diversos, que se sienten representados por este proyecto y que más que poner énfasis en la debilidad de la oposición la hora de explicar el rotundo triunfo kirchnerista, yo lo pondría en los logros que el gobierno consiguió y promete profundizar.

Natalia C. Del Cogliano August 18, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Gracias por tu comentario, Lucila!
Por supuesto, una explicación cualitativa de los resultados implicaría referirnos a un sinnúmero de aspectos sustantivos de la práctica política de nuestro país que aquí no he tratado.

Estela Pittatore August 19, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Buenísimo Naty! A mí me parece que en términos de explicar las estrategias del juego político está perfecto. La influencia de la política pública en el electorado es materia de otro blog. Lo es también , creo, la poca experiencia de una democracia efectiva de apenas 20 años en la que es casi lógico que los partidos políticos tengan “label” problems.

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