BUENOS AIRES —
Five Argentine presidential candidates shared their ideas with the nation during a debate on Sunday, expounding on topics from high inflation to combating drug trafficking while saving their most withering critiques for the poll leader who skipped the event.
Ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli, the chosen successor of President Cristina Fernandez, said a few weeks ago he would not attend because a law was necessary to regulate such encounters. In a television interview Sunday, Scioli, governor of the Buenos Aires province, said “debates often take an aggressive tone” and that voters knew what he stood for.
The candidates on stage didn't agree.
“I regret that he isn't here,” said Mauricio Macri, outgoing mayor of Buenos Aires and the leading opposition candidate.
“It looks like [the ruling party] is having trouble defining who is going to govern if it wins the presidency,” said Macri, implying that Scioli was taking orders from Fernandez.
Sergio Massa, an opposition candidate who broke from Fernandez's party to create his own, added theatrics to a barb for Scioli.
“He was disrespectful in not coming here. His silence is mocking society,” said Massa, who then used the remaining 30 seconds allotted for an answer to remain silent and stone-faced.
Organizers had billed the event as the first national presidential debate, but Scioli's absence took away from some of the event's luster.
Roberto Bacman, director of the Center for Public Opinion Studies, a South American research firm, said Scioli simply calculated that there was little to gain by exposing himself to five other candidates who would surely attack.
Despite no-show, Scioli ahead
Recent polls show Scioli with nearly 41 percent of the electorate's support, compared to 29 to 30 percent for Macri and about 18 for Massa.
If such numbers hold, Scioli would win the October 25 election in the first round. The winner must get 45 percent or at least 40 percent and a 10 point spread over the closest contender. Failure to do so would mean a runoff in late November.
The economy, by far voters' biggest worry, was the first of several topics debated. Argentina has inflation that private economists put around 30 percent, sharp restrictions on buying U.S. dollars and high import taxes.
Macri said he would lower inflation to single digits and force workers who avoid taxes by earning under the table to work legally, but did not say how he would do either.
Massa said he would create a program to help 1.2 million poor families that rent to buy houses and create an apprenticeship program for young people to help get them into the job market.
Nicolas del Cano, from the Leftist Front, said workers needed to be given a bigger say in government policies. He said that in real terms salaries had fallen by 40 percent since 1974.
The hopefuls also weighed in how to improve a public education system that they argued wasn't preparing young people for the 21st century job market.
Cano used one of his question sessions to make a statement that nobody on stage could answer.
I would have liked to ask Scioli if education is a priority for him in a province where hundreds of teachers are not paid on time, with deficient infrastructure in schools,” he said.