By Mark P. Jones, Ph.D.
Fellow in Political Science
On June 16 Tierra del Fuego will hold elections for its governor and provincial legislature. The pragmatic centrist Peronist governor, Rosana Bertone, is strongly favored to win, but there is an outside chance that a more radical left wing candidate, Gustavo Melella, could be victorious, especially if he is able to keep Bertone’s vote share below 50% on the 16th and force a June 23 runoff. Either way, since both candidates are strong supporters of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the former president will be well represented in the winner’s circle on either June 16 or 23.
Tierra del Fuego is Argentina’s least populated province, with 170,000 inhabitants concentrated in the industrial city of Río Grande in the north (where approximately 54% of the province’s population is located) and in the tourism-oriented provincial capital of Ushuaia in the south (where approximately 44% of the population is located), with 2% of the population living in the mid-province town of Tolhuin. Tierra del Fuego is a second-tier Petro-Province, currently producing 2% of Argentina’s petroleum and 8% of its natural gas. In April the Argentine national government held its first offshore bid round and awarded several blocks for exploration and development about 200 miles off the coast of Río Grande in the Malvinas Basin.
Tierra del Fuego’s governor is selected using a majority runoff formula, where if no candidate receives 50% + 1 of the vote in the first round, a runoff is held between the top two candidates from the first round. The 15 members of the unicameral provincial legislature are chosen from a province-wide district with the seats allocated using proportional representation.
Only three candidates are running for governor: the incumbent governor Rosana Bertone, Río Grande mayor Gustavo Melella, and former provincial legislator Juan “Pipo” Rodríguez.
Bertone is the candidate of Fueguino Unity as well as will appear on the ballot of seven other parties, since like the U.S. state of New York, Tierra del Fuego allows fusion candidacies where candidates can appear on the ballot of more than one party and the votes received from the ballots of all of the parties are summed together to determine the candidate’s vote total.
Bertone is favored due to her status as the incumbent but also due to the backing she has received from a large majority of Peronists in Tierra del Fuego, including those who at the national level are aligned with different presidential candidates. Most importantly, this includes the explicit endorsement of Bertone’s candidacy by the leading Peronist ticket of Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. However, if Bertone fails to capture more the half of the vote on June 16 and is forced into a runoff she could be more vulnerable, since she will no longer be able to rely as much on the mobilization efforts of her popular allies running for mayor in Ushuaia (Walter Vuoto) and in Río Grande (Martín Pérez), since in those cities whichever mayoral candidate wins the most votes on June 16 is victorious.
Bertone’s rival is Melella. Melella is the candidate of his own FORJA Pact, of the once powerful provincial-based Fueguino People’s Movement (MPF), and of six other parties. Melella is a strong supporter of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. However in spite of the existence of some bad blood in the past between Bertone and Fernández de Kirchner, the former president has placed her support behind Bertone. This represented a serious blow to Melella’s gubernatorial aspirations, which also have been undermined by allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Melella during his tenure as mayor of Río Grande.
Twenty-four hours before the filing deadline it appeared President Mauricio Macri’s Let’s Change franchise in Tierra del Fuego (Be Fueguino) might not field a gubernatorial candidate after its preferred candidates all declined to run. At the last moment it was however able to draft Rodríguez. Rodríguez has no hope of victory, and his only impact on the gubernatorial race will be to potentially send it to a second round in the event of a close contest between Bertone and Melella. All in all, Be Fueguino will consider itself fortunate if it elects two representatives to the provincial legislature.
In the event Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returns to power (as the vice presidential candidate of Alberto Fernández, or otherwise), both Bertone and Melella would be on good terms with her administration.
In the event Mauricio Macri is re-elected, Bertone would be better positioned than Melella to maintain a productive and positive dialogue on energy-related matters with the Macri administration.
For energy companies in Tierra del Fuego, the re-election of Bertone (the most likely scenario) would result in a continuation of the positive status quo in the province. A Melella victory would most likely also lead to a continuation of the positive status quo for energy policy in the province, but with a greater possibility of actions by the Tierra del Fuego provincial government that are not necessarily beneficial for the interests of all energy companies in the areas of investment, operations, and production.
Note: This is the ninth entry of the Baker Institute’s Center for Energy Studies series on the 2019 Argentine elections.
Previous entries in this series are:
The 2019 Presidential and Petro-Province Elections in Argentina. January 22, 2019.
This post originally appeared in the Forbes blog on June 11, 2019.