Argentina`s peculiar primaries shake up pre-vote scene

 Argentina holds primaries Sunday ahead of its October general elections, a barometer of public opinion heading into the polls to choose a successor to President Cristina Kirchner.  

Buenos Aires: Argentina holds primaries Sunday ahead of its October general elections, a barometer of public opinion heading into the polls to choose a successor to President Cristina Kirchner.

The primaries will determine the political landscape, and in particular the opposition`s chances, as Argentines prepare to turn the page on 12 years of the Kirchner dynasty -- eight under Cristina and four under her late husband, Nestor.

Unlike primaries elsewhere in the world, these polls are a peculiarly Argentine institution that are less about parties choosing their candidates than about taking the electorate`s temperature.

Kirchner`s center-left party, the Front for Victory (FPV), has only one presidential candidate on its ballot: Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires province and the leading contender in opinion polls ahead of the October 25 vote.

His two top competitors meanwhile face largely symbolic challenges within their own parties.

The second-place candidate, conservative Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri, is nearly guaranteed to win the nomination for the Let`s Change coalition.

The third-place candidate, center-right Congressman Sergio Massa, is likewise a virtual shoo-in for his coalition, United for a New Alternative (UNA).

The real test will be to see how many votes each contender gets, and whether Scioli, 58, has enough support to avoid a run-off.

The latest opinion polls give Scioli around 35 percent of the vote. Macri has about 25 percent, while Massa has about 15 percent.

But pundits speculate that Macri, 56, could win a run-off on November 22 by capturing Massa`s voters.

Kirchner is entering the final stretch of her presidency with more than 50 percent support, despite a laundry list of woes in Latin America`s third-largest economy that includes a sliding currency and a messy legal battle over defaulted debt from the country`s 2001 economic crisis.

Barred from running again by term limits, the 62-year-old is not standing for any post.Argentina introduced primaries in 2009 in a bid to make candidate selection more democratic and revitalize a party system gutted by the cataclysmic fallout of the economic crisis, when the country churned through five presidents in two weeks.

Citizens are required to vote in the primaries, as in the general election, and can choose which party`s primary to participate in for each given race (president, governor, and so forth), regardless of whether they are party members.

But despite the new system, parties have largely continued to pick their candidates as they always have: through opaque internal processes in which the general public plays no part.

A case in point is the ruling FPV.

Scioli`s top rival in the party, Interior and Transport Minister Florencio Randazzo, exited the internal race after Scioli announced his running mate would be Carlos Zannini, a Kirchner adviser seen as the president`s right-hand man.

The announcement on June 16 was taken as Kirchner`s implicit endorsement of Scioli. Two days later, Randazzo bowed out of the FPV primary.

The primaries are also designed to winnow out hopeless also-rans. Parties must attract at least 1.5 percent of primary voters to be eligible for the general election.

Around 32 million voters are registered for the polls. Initial results are expected early Monday.

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