By Mark P. Jones, Ph.D.
Fellow in Political Science
On August 11 the Argentine province of Santa Cruz will elect its governor and the members of its unicameral provincial legislature for four-year terms. In spite of Santa Cruz being the home province of the Kirchner clan, there exists a possibility that for the first time in more than 50 years a person who is not a member of Argentina’s Peronist Movement could be elected governor of Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz accounts for 18% of Argentina’s petroleum production and 10% of its natural gas production. In addition, many of the recently allocated offshore blocks licensed by the Argentine government in April of 2019 are located off the coast of Santa Cruz in national waters.
From 1991 to 2003 Néstor Kirchner served as the governor of Santa Cruz. Kirchner resigned in 2003 to assume office as the President of Argentina, a position either he or his spouse, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, would hold until 2015. During the Kirchner reign at the national level from 2003 to 2015 the Kirchners by and large maintained tight control over politics, economics and government in Santa Cruz, control that was continued, after Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was unable to run for immediate re-election in 2015 due to term limits, via the election of Néstor Kirchner’s sister, Alicia Kirchner, as governor in 2015.
The candidate attempting to break the Kirchner hold on power in Santa Cruz is Senator Eduardo Costa, a wealthy businessman and member of the Radical Civic Union (UCR), the junior partner in President Mauricio Macri’s governing coalition. This is Costa’s fourth bid for the governorship after suffering consecutive losses in 2007, 2011, and 2015. Costa’s principal rivals are the incumbent governor Alicia Kirchner and El Calafate mayor Javier Belloni (who, like Alicia Kirchner, is a devout supporter of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner).
Santa Cruz is the only Argentine province that still employs an electoral system known as the Double Simultaneous Vote (DSV), or “Ley de Lemas”, to elect its governor. Under the DSV, alliances may present multiple candidates whose votes are pooled for the purpose of determining the winning alliance, with the candidate within that alliance who receives the most votes declared the victor.
For example, in 2015 there were two main alliances, each with two candidates. The Santa Cruzan Front for Victory’s (FPV) two candidates were Alicia Kirchner and Daniel Peralta while the Union to Live Better’s (UVM) two candidates were Eduardo Costa and Osvaldo Pérez. Kirchner won 34% of the vote and Peralta 17% for a combined 51% for the FPV. Costa won 42% of the vote and Pérez 5% for a combined 47% for the UVM. Since the FPV alliance’s candidates won more votes than the UVM alliance’s candidates, Kirchner (the most voted FPV candidate) was elected governor, even though she personally won fewer votes than Costa.
In 2019, Costa’s strategy is to maximize support for his alliance by having six additional gubernatorial candidates run along with him under the banner of the New Santa Cruz (NSC) alliance. Two of the NSC candidates are members of political parties that, like the UCR, at the national level belong to President Mauricio Macri’s Together for Change alliance. They are Port San Julián mayor Antonio Tommaso of Macri’s Federal Proposal (PR0) and Daniel Vidal of the Faith Party (FE). Two other candidates are allied with Macri’s competitors at the federal level, provincial legislator José Blassiotto of the Renewal Front (FR) and Pico Truncado mayor Omar Fernández of Santa Cruzan Socialism, who are supporting presidential candidate Roberto Lavagna (Federal Consensus). The two remaining NSC gubernatorial candidates belong to provincial-based parties, Las Heras mayor José María Carambia of the Neighborhood Movement Renewal (MOVERE) and provincial legislator Gabriela Mestelán of Citizen Encounter (EC).
The Front for Everyone (FDT) alliance has two principal candidates, Alicia Kirchner of Santa Cruzan Agreement (AS) and Javier Belloni of Hope is Born (NE). The other FDT candidate is Claudio Vidal, the leader of the Santa Cruz oil and gas workers union, of the We are Energy to Renew Santa Cruz (SER).
In the August 11 gubernatorial election all of the votes won by the seven NSC candidates will be summed together as will all of the votes won by the three FDT candidates. Whichever alliance wins the most votes will have the governor chosen from its ranks (i.e., the alliance’s candidate who won the most votes). And, while it is extremely likely Eduardo Costa will be the most voted candidate of the NSC alliance, both Alicia Kirchner and Javier Belloni have a realistic prospect of being the FDT candidate with the most votes.
In addition to these two multi-candidate alliances, two other candidates are running as the sole candidate of their party/alliance. Former governor Daniel Peralta is the candidate of We Are All Santa Cruz (SCST) and Omar Latini is the candidate of the Left Front-Unity (FIT) alliance. Neither candidate has any hope of winning.
With less than two weeks until election day (which will take place concurrently with the presidential and congressional primaries across the country), the Santa Cruz gubernatorial election is too close to call, with Alicia Kirchner, Javier Belloni and Eduardo Costa all having a realistic prospect of victory.
The relations between the victor of the Santa Cruz gubernatorial election and the federal government will vary dramatically depending on who wins the gubernatorial election on August 11 and who wins the presidential election on October 27 (or November 24 if there is a runoff). Two pairs of victories (Alicia Kirchner/Javier Belloni & Alberto Fernández-Cristina Fernández or Eduardo Costa & Mauricio Macri) would result in relatively harmonious and positive relations between Santa Cruz and the federal government. And, two pairs of victories (Alicia Kirchner/Javier Belloni & Mauricio Macri or Eduardo Costa & Alberto Fernández-Cristina Fernández) would result in a relatively hostile and negative relationship between Santa Cruz and the federal government, with the latter pair likely to result in the greatest level of hostility and strongest level of negativity.
Note: This is the eleventh 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.