October 29, 2015 / 12:26 AM / 2 years ago

Argentina's Massa to election rivals: Want my voters? Heed my ideas

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Defeated Argentine presidential hopeful Sergio Massa unveiled key policy demands on Wednesday and said his 5 million supporters would vote in next month’s run-off election based on how the two remaining candidates respond.

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

Massa, whose plans ranged from cracking down on drug-runners to scrapping income tax for workers, stopped short of endorsing either ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli or his conservative rival Mauricio Macri.

“The stance that the two candidates take vis-a-vis these proposals will define where more than 5 million voters place their support,” he said.

Earlier, Scioli’s hunt for swing voters suffered a blow when two of Massa’s top allies said they would not vote for him.

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”.

“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.”

The policy blueprint leaned heavily on Massa’s first-round campaign pledges and included scrapping the income tax for workers, removing hefty taxes on corn and wheat exports, tackling narco-gangs and stamping out corruption.

“Between change and continuity, change has already won,” Massa said. “Now what we need to construct is intelligent change.”

Massa allies on Monday told Reuters that Macri would find more common ground with the policy priorities than Scioli and that the document would be a tacit “wink” in Macri’s direction.

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 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.

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.

Massa broke from the ruling party in 2013 and is a strong critic of Fernandez. On the campaign trail, however, he also warned Macri could drive the economy into a new crisis by imposing pro-market reforms too abruptly.

“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.

Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Christian Plumb

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