Chubut is Argentina’s second most important Petro-Province (after Neuquén), producing 30% of the country’s petroleum and 7% of its natural gas. On April 7 provincial primary elections were held which, due to the nature of the primary legislation in Chubut, provide an excellent barometer of popular support for the leading gubernatorial candidates with two months to go until the June 9 general election in the province.
Under Chubut’s mandatory primary legislation, all alliances/parties are required to participate in the primary process (even if there is only a single candidate running for their nomination) and voting is compulsory for voters.
The primary results suggest Governor Mariano Arcioni of the provincial-based We Are All Chubut party (ChSoTo) is well positioned to win in June. However, it is still too early to completely count out the candidate aligned with former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Carlos Linares of the Chubut Patriotic Front Alliance (AFPC). Both ChSoTo and the AFPC are dominated by members of Argentina’s Peronist Movement, with the former group of Peronists antagonists of Fernández de Kirchner and the latter group Fernández de Kirchner loyalists. The third candidate who still has a conceivable, albeit very challenging, path to victory is national deputy Gustavo Menna, the candidate of Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s Let’s Change Alliance.
Two of the three main political alliances only had one gubernatorial candidate competing in the primary. Arcioni was the sole gubernatorial candidate for the ChSoTo led Forward Chubut Alliance and Menna was the single Let’s Change candidate. Arcioni was elected as Chubut’s lieutenant governor in 2015 and assumed office as governor in November 2017 following the death of then-Governor Mario Das Neves.
In contrast, the pro-Fernández de Kirchner elites could not come to a consensus, resulting in the AFPC primary featuring three gubernatorial candidates: Linares, the mayor of Chubut’s most populous city, Comodoro Rivadavia; Gustavo Mac Karthy, a former lieutenant governor and a former mayor of the province’s second most populous city, Trelew, as well as the son of César “Kuky” Mac Karthy who as Senate Energy Committee Chair and later Secretary of Energy was a major national energy policy player during the 1990s; and Héctor Burgoa, mayor of the village of Veintiocho de Julio.
In addition to these three major alliances, five other parties or alliances ran gubernatorial candidates, with their principal goal being to surpass the support threshold of 1.5% of registered voters (6,635 votes) needed to be able to compete in the June 9 general election.
In the primary election the candidate who received the most popular support was Arcioni with 35.4% of the valid vote (with 1,302 of 1,325 precincts reporting), while the party/alliance that received the most votes was the AFPC with 36.7% divided among the three candidates (Linares-18.5%, Mac Karthy-14.2%, Burgoa-4.0%). In third place was Menna with 15.6%. Among the five minor party/alliance candidates, three crossed the threshold with vote shares ranging from 3.2% to 2.6%. On June 9, Chubut voters will have six gubernatorial options at the ballot box: Arcioni, Linares, Menna, two candidates from small far-left parties (Gloria Sáez of the Leftist Workers Front and Cristian Masquijo of the Socialist Workers Movement) and one candidate from a small Peronist splinter group (Carlos Wohn of the Independent Party of Chubut).
Arcioni demonstrated he has the solid support of over one-third of Chubut voters. At the same time, the Linares victory was the optimal outcome of the AFPC primary for Arcioni, since Linares is seen as more closely aligned with the left wing ideology and political leadership of Fernández de Kirchner than is Mac Karthy, who would have been much better able to appeal in the general election campaign to some voters who backed Menna in the primary but also want to prevent Arcioni’s re-election.
The principal challenge for Linares will be retaining voters who cast a ballot for Mac Karthy and Burgoa within the AFPC fold on June 9. Elites who supported Mac Karthy are very likely to continue to support Linares, in large part because they and their allies occupy electable positions on the AFPC provincial legislative list as well as spots as the AFPC mayoral and city council candidates in the numerous municipalities across the province that are holding municipal elections on June 9. As a case in point Mac Karthy’s spouse, Florencia Papaiani, is the AFPC mayoral candidate in Trelew. Many Mac Karthy voters are however not as enthusiastic supporters of Fernández de Kirchner as is Linares, nor ideologically as far to the left as Linares, suggesting Linares will have his work cut out for him to keep some of them from shifting their support to either Arcioni or Menna. In the case of Burgoa, his primary voters are expected to stay in the AFPC fold and cast a ballot for Linares, and Burgoa, like Mac Karthy, formally endorsed Linares this week.
But, Linares’ challenges are modest compared to those of Menna, who carries the additional burden of his association with the Macri Administration, which is unpopular in Chubut. Menna simultaneously needs to siphon off most of the support that went to Mac Karthy in the primary while also raising Arcioni’s negatives in order to bring down the governor’s overall level of support. This latter effort will be made all the more difficult by the indirect backing Arcioni will receive from the Macri Administration between now and June with the goal of preventing a victory on June 9 by Linares so as to yet again deny Fernández de Kirchner and her allies a victory as occurred in Río Negro on April 7 and in Neuquén on March 10.
While there are still two months to go, the results of the April 7 Chubut primary indicate Governor Arcioni is in the driver’s seat en route to a likely victory on June 9. Linares would have to succeed in the herculean task of retaining virtually all AFPC primary voters in the fold in order to defeat Arcioni, with Menna’s challenge even more daunting. As a result, for the next four years international oil companies and other private energy companies working in Chubut can most likely expect a continuation of the positive status quo in regard to pro-development provincial policies related to the energy sector.
Note: This is the sixth 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.
Mark P. Jones is the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies and the Director of the Center for Energy Studies’ Argentina Program at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.
Follow him on Twitter @MarkPJonesTX