Argentina’s Government Risks Embarrassment in Primary Vote Count

Corrected
  • Ex-President Fernandez claims vote counting manipulation
  • Final recount likely to give her a 1%-1.5% advantage

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Aug. 14, 2017.

Source: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The administration of Argentine President Mauricio Macri may have lined itself up for an embarrassment.

Former President Cristina Fernandez has accused them of manipulating the count in last week’s primary in Buenos Aires province, saying they halted the tally early, leaving out many of her supporters’ votes. Whether she is right or not will be revealed next week when the official count is released.

The first count was stopped at 96 percent of ballots in the early hours of Aug. 14, when Fernandez was locked in a tie with President Mauricio Macri’s candidate Esteban Bullrich. If the recount shows Fernandez ahead it will tarnish what was first seen as a surprisingly strong performance by Macri’s government. While it’s common to halt the count early in Argentina, the way the votes were reported raises suspicions of attempts by the government to control the media narrative, said Martin Plot, a professor in political theory at UNSAM-Conicet in Buenos Aires.

“It will create a situation that has never happened before in an important election such as this one, where the result of the official recount will be different from the one we got on election night,” Plot said. “Cristina is waiting for that number to relaunch her candidacy.”

Candidates from all parties are on the same ballot in each voting district, making the primary an unofficial first round or a poll with a large sample size. The focus is on individual battles, especially the race for three senate seats representing Buenos Aires province.

‘We Won’

Fernandez described the freeze on vote counting as an attempt to hide the truth, according to an article on her website.

“We’re not going to stop until they’ve counted all the votes because we know we won,” Fernandez wrote.

Lawmakers allied to Fernandez have demanded Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio explain the delays, claiming the count was stopped early precisely in those areas where Fernandez was expected to win. In Ensenada only 90.1 percent of votes were counted on the night, while in Malvinas Argentinas it was 90.8 percent and in Berazategui it was 90.9 percent.

Frigerio has denied any wrongdoing, saying the votes were uploaded into the system “without any sort of speculation” and that the vote count carried out by the government is only provisional. The Interior Ministry is in charge of initial counting while the National Electoral Chamber, presided over by the justice system, carries out the official count.

Official Count

Buenos Aires province Governor Maria Eugenia Vidal told reporters on Aug. 14 that the vote showed support for Macri’s Cambiemos, or Let’s Change, alliance was on the rise, while Macri celebrated with supporters.

“Change is more alive than ever, and it isn’t just the property of the government but of all the Argentinians,” Macri told supporters that night, according to El Mundo.

Yet, the official count will probably show Fernandez won by as much as 1.5 percentage points, according to Raul Aragon, director of a Buenos Aires-based polling company who verified some of the claims made by Fernandez’s Union Ciudadana movement.

The peso weakened the most in the world between June 24, when Fernandez announced plans to run for the senate, and the primaries on Aug. 13, on concern that her political comeback would signal a rejection of Macri’s project to open up Argentina’s economy.

If Fernandez is declared the winner in the primary, she will hammer home the alleged manipulation in the run-up to October’s congressional vote, Aragon said.

“Cristina is going to go on the attack,” Aragon said. “My impression is she’ll come out with studs up.”

(Corrects name of Fernandez’ alliance in 12th paragraph.)
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