Ten years after Néstor Kirchner took office, the Kirchner era is finally coming to an end. The unimpressive performance of the Kirchner party, the FPV, in the August primaries cast doubts on rumours that current president Cristina Kirchner would attempt to change the constitution in order to run for a third term. But, Kirchner’s temporary withdrawal from politics two weeks ago due to a subdural haematoma, and the serious concerns about her long-term health, should end speculation on the matter.

Image courtesy of the Presidency of Argentina, © 2008, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of the Presidency of Argentina, © 2008, some rights reserved.

The legislative elections on Sunday offer an opportunity for potential presidential candidates to establish credibility and confidence; a key source of support is the Partido Justicialista (PJ). Successor to the legendary Juan Perón’s Partido Peronista, the PJ will make or break electoral campaigns in a country where being Peronist is almost a political requirement. In 2003, it was the PJ’s backing of Mr Kirchner that brought a relatively unknown candidate to the presidency in a matter of months.

Yet as well as making the right alliances, potential candidates need to project a strong presidential image, after what ex-president Eduardo Duhalde calls the “hyper Presidential-ism” generated by the Kirchners. While Ms Kirchner’s image of the courageous widow turned radical politician mesmerizes the press, even her opponents accept that she has run a strong presidency and has kept factions in check. This is particularly important in the Argentine system where, unlike in the US or UK where a few well-established parties always win, the president often decides to run and then chooses the coalition or party which will bring the most support; Perón originally considered running for the Radical Party (UCR) before failing to get their backing. The fact that many of the military coups during the last century were possible because of disarray within political parties further highlights the importance of an authoritative president.

So who can satisfy both the people and the party?

Sergio Massa, Renewal Front (FR)

The longstanding mayor of the municipality of El Tigre has attracted the most attention since his success in the August elections and will no doubt run for the presidency. Having made his political career under Néstor Kirchner, only to defect after a dispute with Cristina Kirchner, he can capitalise on being “Peronist” while avoiding association with the government’s current unpopularity.

His desire to reintegrate Argentina into international markets may gain him support from the foreign press but the number of people in his party from the Menem era has inspired fears that his economic policy may lead to another crisis like that of 2003—a crisis which makes the current one appear a minor hiccup. Also uncomfortable for Mr Massa is the rumour that he is supported by the media giant Grupo Clarín. Many fear that the news group, whose influence the government is currently trying to curb, is hoping to exchange political backing for concessions under the new president.

Mauricio Macri, Republican Proposal (PRO)

Having abstained from both the previous general election and the upcoming legislative one this Sunday, it seems that Mr Macri is saving himself for the presidential election in 2015. Selling himself as “businessman turned politician”, his position as Chief of Government of Buenos Aires will ensure him the support of the most wealthy and influential sector of Argentine society.

Friends in high places and his personal bank account are in some ways useful assets but Mr Macri’s cheto (rich-kid) image is likely to limit the scope of his electoral base. His support for popular fellow PRO member, Gabriela Michetti, in her campaign for the senate this week may help him overcome this particular obstacle. Ms Michetti’s social policies such as support for gay rights and people with disabilities (she herself is in a wheelchair) are likely to pick up PRO votes where Mr Macri is lacking. If Mr Macri wants to become a man of the people, he is best continuing his alliance with Ms Michetti.

Ricardo Alfonsín, Radical Party (UCR)

Mr Alfonsín has already run against the FPV in 2011 and will probably do so again in two years for the UCR, the oldest political party in Argentina. Already a recognised name in politics, Mr Alfonsín’s father, Raúl Alfonsín, was the first elected president after the return to democracy in 1983 and has been dubbed the “father of democracy”. Unfortunately it does not appear that Mr Alfonsín has the presence of his father and as a result he will no doubt need to run as part of a coalition to better his chances of election.

Martín Insaurralde, Front for Victory (FPV)

Although in Sunday’s election Mr Insaurralde will represent Cristina Kirchner’s party in Buenos Aires, it is unlikely that he will be their presidential candidate; having once said “I am what I am thanks to Néstor”, Mr Insaurralde appears to be no more than an FPV puppet for these elections. An uncontroversial political newcomer, his main purpose is to retain as many seats as possible for the FPV and consequently put the party in a better position for 2015.

Jury’s still out

Massa, Macri and Alfonsín are a few of the names we can expect to see on the presidential ballot. Although Mr Massa and Mr Macri are currently the most outstanding candidates, until the all-important PJ support is cast there is little telling who will take Ms Kirchner’s place. While Mr Massa may hope that a good result for him on Sunday may help his bid for the PJ vote, the PJ currently still holds its allegiance to Ms Kirchner’s FPV and is likely to choose a candidate more ideologically aligned with them.

The lack of frontrunner in the presidential race means that candidates will have to form coalitions to broaden their support base, leading not only to more consensus politics but a step away from the “hyper Presidential-ism” practised by Ms Kirchner.