October 28, 2015 / 6:49 PM / in 2 years

Top Massa allies snub ruling party candidate in Argentina run-off

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli’s hunt for swing voters in Argentina’s presidential run-off vote suffered a blow on Wednesday when two of defeated candidate Sergio Massa’s top allies said they would not vote for him.

Argentinian presidential hopeful Sergio Massa of the Frente Renovador (Renewal Front) gives thumb up as he arrives for a meeting with pensioners and senior citizens in Monte Grande, outskirts Buenos Aires, Argentina in this October, 19, 2015 file photo.REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian/Files

Macri has the momentum early in the race to the Nov. 22 run-off after his strong showing in Sunday’s ballot defied polls and shocked the ruling Front for Victory party, which had eyed a win in the first round.

Jose Manuel De la Sota, the governor of Cordoba province and a senior figure in Massa’s alliance, said the leftist government of outgoing leader Cristina Fernandez had been “anti-federal and authoritarian” in style. Roberto Lavagna, a former economy minister, said he wanted to see “change”.

As Scioli and his conservative challenger Mauricio Macri scramble for Massa’s 5 million voters, politicians from Massa’ New Alternative alliance are meeting in a Buenos Aires hotel to draw up a blueprint of policy priorities.

Massa allies on Monday told Reuters that the document would have more in common with pro-business Macri’s campaign platform and would be a tacit “wink” in his direction.

“Kirchnerismo has done no good for the country,” De la Sota told reporters, referring to the name given to the leftist populism of Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner. “It has gotten drunk on power.”

Asked if he would vote for Scioli, De la Sota gave a categoric “no”.

The policy blueprint aims to ensure the next president would be elected on a mandate to break from Fernandez’s interventionist policies, Massa said.

“We’re not looking for cabinet posts. We’re looking for change,” Massa told reporters as he went into the meeting.

RELUCTANT KINGMAKER

Although the lawmaker who split with the ruling party in 2013 is in a strong position to influence the outcome of the run-off, he has so far ducked playing kingmaker.

Doing so could risk the ambitious 43-year-old’s power base. Many of his supporters blame Fernandez for hobbling the economy but view Macri as beholden to big business. Others balk at the prospect of four more years of brazen leftist populism under Scioli.

“He can insinuate, say change is desirable and let voters chose their own path. There is no need for him so split his own force,” said political analyst Federico Thomsen.

Fernandez, a fiery leftist who often rails against Western excess, will leave behind a divided nation. She is hailed by the poor for expanding social welfare programs and protecting local industry but loathed by others who blame her for strangling the economy.

Massa’s camp says the policy blueprint will lean heavily on his first-round campaign pledges: fighting inflation, scrapping the income tax for workers and removing hefty taxes on corn and wheat exports.

Scioli promises to maintain Fernandez’s social safety net and talks only of gradual change to her protectionist policies that include trade and capital controls.

Macri promises fast-moving reform to dismantle the controls. Massa had pitched himself as a middle-way candidate.

“Personally I am in the change camp. We need to have a clear understanding what change means. But in any case, it is not a vote for the Front for Victory,” said Lavagna, who was touted to return to the Economy Ministry had Massa won.

(The story was refiled to remove a reference to De la Sota as running mate in paragraph 3)

Editing by Christian Plumb

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