Can the government hold on to Buenos Aires city?

12th September 2019

By Luciana Bertoia

Can the government hold on to Buenos Aires city?

After Mauricio Macri’s defeat in the PASO primaries, all eyes are focused on the City of Buenos Aires, the only district currently governed by Juntos por el Cambio where the ruling coalition won in August.

Despite the win, Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta is facing a more complex situation than expected: a run-off with his Frente de Todos contender, Matías Lammens, seems less unlikely than before Alberto Fernández’s landslide national victory, which surprised even the most optimistic Peronist forecasters.

If the current BA City mayor manages to be re-elected, he could stand to become a leader of the opposition to Alberto Fernández. If he loses, Macri will no longer have his electoral stronghold, where his PRO party ruled for twelve years and which he used as a launch pad into national politics.

</p> <p>In 2015, Rodríguez Larreta suffered until the very last moment in the second round to beat Martín Lousteau, who is currently a member of <em>Juntos por el Cambio</em> and is <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/06/20/rodriguez-larreta-lousteau-ba-city-reelection-macri-lammens-buenos-aires">running for senator on the same ballot as Larreta</a>. Following on Fernández’s footsteps, Lammens believes he may have better luck than Lousteau and is preparing a two-pronged campaign: one more linked to Kirchnerism and another that seeks to attract those disenchanted with Macri and Rodríguez Larreta’s administrations.</p> <p>For that, however, Lammens firsts needs to force a runoff himself, keeping Larreta below the city&#8217;s <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/07/04/argentina-election-voting-rules-primaries-runoff">50 percent threshold</a>. In the <a href="https://www.resultados2019.gob.ar/">primaries</a>, Larreta beat Lammens by 280,000 votes, with 46.5 percent of the electorate. That figure, however, might grow in the second round, when blank votes are excluded from the count. Lammens got 32 percent, which might not seem much, but which is still significantly more than what Lousteau obtained in 2015, before almost beating Larreta in the runoff.</p> <p>&#8220;If Fernández wins in the first round and secures a runoff in the city, it won&#8217;t be easy for Larreta to win with a rival national administration already elected. Larreta would be facing all the national power amassed by the Frente de Todos by himself,&#8221; political consultant Rosendo Fraga told <em>The Essential</em>.</p> <p>&#8220;If Rodríguez Larreta does win re-election, he will become the PRO party’s new leader, but it is less likely that he’ll become the leader of the Juntos por el Cambio coalition as well, because it is uncertain whether the Radical Party (UCR) will remain within it,&#8221; Fraga added.</p> <h2><strong>A strategy without Macri</strong></h2> <p>Rodriguez Larreta is trying to separate his campaign from the beleaguered presidential bid of Mauricio Macri in order to retain the City government. The same strategy is being adopted by his key ally BA province Governor María Eugenia Vidal. Vidal’s situation is much more difficult, however, as even though she got some more votes than Macri in her race for re-election, her landslide defeat against unified Peronism in its historic provincial stronghold seems almost insurmountable, trailing by 1,698,278 votes against former Economy minister Axel Kicillof.</p> <p>Yesterday, Rodríguez Larreta’s strategy of getting former enemies to back him reached pro-market economist <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/06/27/mauricio-macri-jose-luis-espert-alberto-asseff-presidential-race-unir-coalition">José Luis Espert</a>, the presidential candidate of the Despertar Front. Espert’s front ran into legal trouble when presenting a candidate of its own in the city, so it won’t compete in that category in October’s general elections. After a meeting at Larreta&#8217;s offices, Espert announced that he would support the BA City mayor to win re-election. Espert&#8217;s voters, in general, are disenchanted with Macri&#8217;s economic policies, which has gotten worse since the primary elections.</p> <p>Vidal and Larreta represent an internal faction within the ruling coalition that has been critical of Macri’s right-hand, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña, accused of being primarily responsible for the defeat in the primaries. Both seem to be more open to dialogue with other political sectors, including Peronism.</p> <h2><strong>A New Face</strong></h2> <p>Lammens, like Macri, wants to jump from football to politics. He is a 39-year-old lawyer who seven years ago was elected as the president of San Lorenzo, a popular sports club in Buenos Aires city. He then sealed an alliance with TV star Marcelo Tinelli, who himself had flirted with Federal Peronism (the governors not necessarily aligned with the Kirchners) to compete in the elections. Lammens represents the new face of progressivism in the City. On the ballot, he is accompanied by journalist Gisela Marziotta, whose candidacy was promoted by Buenos Aires city’s Peronist party structure.</p> <p>Lammens had no previous participation in politics. He studied at the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires — like many of the leaders of the youth group La Cámpora — and graduated from the University of Buenos Aires. A salient fact is that he also studied Political Science at the University of Havana, Cuba. He is married to Mariana Gené, a sociologist at the CONICET research agency. In fact, Lammens has already announced that, if he defeats Rodríguez Larreta, he will set up a cabinet with researchers and university professors who have been supporting his campaign.</p> <h2><strong>Splitting the campaign</strong></h2> <p>Mariano Recalde, current lawmaker and former head of the state-owned Aerolíneas Argentinas during the administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, heads the senatorial ticket of the Frente de Todos in the City and is running Lammens’ mayoral campaign.</p> <p>Recalde designed a campaign that divided the Buenos Aires city map into three large areas. On the one hand, there are the northern neighborhoods that he characterized as a Rodríguez Larreta stronghold. On the other hand, there are the southern neighbourhoods, where the Frente de Todos defeated Juntos por el Cambio on August 11.  But Recalde&#8217;s attention is focused on the central middle-class neighborhoods, the ones that are intersected by the Rivadavia Avenue.</p> <p>&#8220;Those are the neighborhoods where Lousteau defeated Larreta in the 2015 run-off, where Matías Tombolini (Roberto Lavagna&#8217;s Federal Consensus’ mayoral candidate) has his voters and where most people split the ballot between Macri and Rodríguez Larreta,&#8221; a source from the Frente de Todos campaign headquarters told <em>The Essential</em>.</p> <p>Lammens and Recalde will split the campaign. Recalde, leader of La Cámpora, will focus on the south of the City and will direct his criticisms to Macri and Larreta. For his part, Lammens will continue to present proposals, trying to reach the middle-class progressive, non-Peronist vote.</p> <h2>Going viral</h2> <p>During the campaign, the Frente de Todos will not take up the issue of crime and will focus on a more urban agenda, with health and transport at the heart of it instead. Lammens will also present a proposal for the creation of a science and technology agency in the city. The presentation is likely to be done with Alberto Fernández by his side next week. As opposed to Larreta and Vidal, Lammens seems more interested in associating his image with that of the presidential candidate in order to raise his voter turnout.</p> <p>Meanwhile, every Friday, flashmobs will continue to meet in key corners of several neighborhoods of the city to dance to the tune of a song that has become a bit of an internet meme, named #SiVosQuerés (If you want), which calls for a vote against Rodríguez Larreta to punish him for the daily economic hardships, without even mentioning Lammens’ name.</p> <p>

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Luciana Bertoia

Luciana Bertoia is a journalist specialized in judicial, political and human rights issues. She has published in Ámbito Financiero, Página/12, the Buenos Aires Herald and the International Justice Tribune.