By Mark P. Jones
Most observers of Argentina’s Vaca Muerta shale play will focus on the April 16 gubernatorial election in Neuquén province, which accounts for the lion’s share of oil and gas production in the Vaca Muerta shale play. However, on the same day, a second gubernatorial election will be held in the neighboring province of Río Negro, one of the four provinces in which part of Vaca Muerta is located (La Pampa and Mendoza being the other two).
Río Negro currently produces 4% of Argentina’s oil and 3% of its natural gas, and also plays a significant role in transporting Vaca Muerta’s production to market. Due to current and planned investments, Río Negro oil and gas production is expected to continue to grow throughout this decade.
Under Argentina’s federal constitution, provincial governments play a significant role in regulating the investments and operations of oil and gas companies within their respective borders. On April 16, Río Negro elects the governor through a single plurality vote along with the 46 members of the unicameral provincial legislature using proportional representation, with 24 members elected from eight three-member districts and 22 members elected from a province-wide district.
Nine candidates are running for governor, though one of those candidates, National Senator Alberto Wertilneck, is a virtual lock to win. In 2011, Wertilneck was elected lieutenant governor on a ticket with Peronist gubernatorial candidate Carlos Soria. Less than a month after Soria was sworn in as governor, he was assassinated by his wife, and Wertilneck assumed the governorship in January 2012. Wertilneck was re-elected in 2015, and in 2019, barred from running for immediate re-election under the Río Negro Constitution, Wertilneck helped elect his successor Arabela Carreras. In 2023, Carreras resigns and Wertilneck runs for governor again as the candidate of the Río Negro-based provincial alliance Juntos Somos Río Negro (JSRN).
Like Neuquén, Río Negro allows fusion candidacies, in which a gubernatorial candidate can be independently endorsed by multiple parties and alliances, with all the votes the candidate receives from these different parties and alliances being added together to determine the winner of the gubernatorial contest. . In addition to being the JSRN candidate, Wertilneck is also the candidate of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), which is one of the two main members of the Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) alliance, which forms the main opposition, at the national level. the ruling Frente de Todos (FdT) of President Alberto Fernández. Wertilneck is also the candidate of the Nos Une Río Negro (Nos Une) alliance, which contains a large proportion of parties and actors that are part of the FdT at the national level. Both the UCR and Nos Une are running their own provincial legislative candidates to compete with candidates from Wertilneck’s JSRN.
National Rep. Aníbal Tortoriello is probably the most prominent challenger Wertilneck faces this year. Tortoriello is the candidate of the Cambia Río Negro alliance, which includes the other main parties that make up JxC at the national level: Propuesta Federal (PRO), Coalición Cívica and Peronismo Republicano.
The part of the national government alliance FdT that does not support Wertilneck is divided into two groups, each with its own gubernatorial candidates and legislative lists. Gustavo Casas, who runs the office of the federal road administration in Río Negro, is the candidate of the Unidad para la Victoria alliance. Former National Member of Parliament Silvia Horne is a candidate for governor of the Vamos con Todos alliance.
The last somewhat prominent challenger is Ariel Rivero of the Primero Rio Negro alliance, a former Peronist mayor and provincial representative who is now the most visible ally in the province of libertarian presidential candidate Javier Milea.
The other four gubernatorial candidates proposed by smaller parties and alliances are Gabriel Musa of the far-left Frente de Izquierda y de Trabajadores-Unidad alliance, Aurelio Vázquez of the far-left Movimiento al Socialismo, real estate developer Gabriel Di Tullio of the Partido Rionegrino provincial alliance, and former priest and activist for human rights Rafael Zamaro from the alliance Somos Unidad Popular y Social.
Wertilneck is virtually assured of victory and a third term as governor of Río Negro. The only uncertainties revolve around his margin of victory, along with whether his JSRN alliance will win an absolute majority of the 46 seats in the provincial legislature, or whether Wertilneck will have to rely on his potentially transitional legislative allies elected from UCR lists to pass legislation at the provincial level and Nos Une, which have Wertilneck as a candidate for governor.
This is the second post in a series on the 2023 gubernatorial elections in Argentina’s top petro (Chubut, Mendoza, Neuquén, Río Negro, Santa Cruz, Tierra del Fuego) and mining (Catamarca, Jujuy, Salta, San Juan, Santa Cruz) provinces. Previous entry is below:
February 20, 2023.
The battle for control of Vaca Muerta is officially underway: Neuquén 2023
Mark P. Jones is the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies and Program Director of the Center for Energy Studies in Argentina at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.