Argentina′s presidential hopeful Daniel Scioli | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 27.10.2015
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Argentina's presidential hopeful Daniel Scioli

Often described as a macho millionaire with a heart for the poor and a political turncoat, former powerboat racer Daniel Scioli faces his opponent in a runoff vote for the Argentine presidency in November.

Ideology, no thanks! That could easily be the 58-year old Argentinean presidential candidate's motto. His radio campaign slogans plead for trust, but contain little content: "Give me your vote, that's all I ask for! Leave the rest to me, I know what needs to be done," - that's the message.

Daniel Scioli is no stranger to the South American country that Mr and Mrs Kirchner (the late Nestor and wife Cristina) have ruled for the past 12 years. The well-known powerboat racer was Sports and Tourism Minister under President Carlos Menem (1989 - 1999) and served as deputy to President Kirchner (2003 - 2007).

And like a true Peronist, Scioli tended to be flexible: As Tourism Minister, he praised President Menem's neo-liberal, business-friendly course and as Kirchner's deputy, he was all in favor of subsidies and social programs.

Founded after WWII, the Peronist Party (Partido Justicialista/ PJ) is the most important political force in Argentina. The Peronists have ruled the country almost without exception since the end of the military dictatorship in 1983, only twice were they forced to relinquish power for a short period.

On the road to victory

Scioli took his leave from the Presidential Palace when Cristina Kirchner followed in her husband's footsteps in 2007, and became governor of the country's largest province, Buenos Aires. He led the Peronist Party from 2009 to 2014.

"Cristina Kirchner waited a long time before she chose Scioli as the candidate to succeed her," says Dörte Wollrad, head of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation (FES) bureau in Buenos Aires. "She hated him from the start because Scioli wasn't one of her supporters." He sees himself as a "moderate Peronist," Wollrad adds.

Daniel Scioli, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Presidential candidate Scioli and Cristina Kirchner greet supporters

It's almost as if Cristina Kirchner, with Scioli's help, wants to belatedly correct her own leftwing populist course. Where the outgoing president is concerned, Argentines are divided: Her supporters from the poorest levels of society have followed her unconditionally, but many businessmen disliked her policies.

It will be up to Scioli to overcome the divisions. The marketing expert will be able to draw on his political standing in the Peronist Party. And the people adore him because of his athletic achievements in his powerboat racing days.

Tough guy

The sports career of the son of wealthy Italian immigrants almost took a tragic turn: in December 1989, the then 32-year-old Scioli was involved in a serious accident during a race on the Parana River; he lost his arm and almost bled to death in the churning waters.

A fitted prosthesis allowed him to continue to race powerboats; he even won a few more titles at the Formula One races on water. "People always give Scioli a lot of credit for that," says Dörte Wollrad. "They say, what a macho, that's great!"

In retrospect, Daniel Scioli interprets the accident as a political epiphany. "I know what I have God to thank for," he told the Argentine media years ago. "Because of the accident, I decided to start a political career!"

And that career went hand in hand with financial gain. Over the past 20 years, his fortune increased a thousandfold, according to the Latin America edition of Spain's El País newspaper. Scioli owns a mansion and a powerboat, he owns stocks and bonds, dollar bank accounts and maintains a private soccer pitch on the premises of his Buenos Aires home.

Among millionaires

The Casa Rosada, as Argentines call the presidential palace, seems to hold special appeal for millionaires. Like Scioli, the other presidential contender Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires and candidate for the conservative PRO alliance, is wealthy.

No matter who moves into the Casa Rosada, Cristina Kirchner's successor faces difficult times ahead. He will have to reach out to Argentina's creditors so the country can take out loans on the capital market. He will have to cut social benefits and subsidies to contain debt and inflation. In the face of sinking prices for commodities and falling export revenue, he will have to get the economy going again.

"The outcome of this election will show how quickly the change of course will happen," says columnist Carlos E. Cue. "If Daniel Scioli wins, it will be gradual change, if Mauricio Macri wins, it'll be more pronounced."

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