The Right Wing Comes to Power in Argentina
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By less than 3 points, the candidate of the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition, Mauricio Macri, defeated Daniel Scioli of the Front for Victory and will be the next president of Argentina. Macri comes from the business world and was formerly resident of Boca and mayor of Buenos Aires. He represents the new Argentine rightwing. His inauguration on Dec. 10 will mark a dramatic change of party and in the nation’s economic and foreign policy.
The result was closer than what the polls predicted, repeating their failure to accurately predict results in the first-round Oct. 25 elections. The difference between Macri’s 51.4% and 48.6% of the Front for Victory (FPV) was just over 700,000 votes. The territorial distribution of the votes indicates that Cambiemos won in nine districts and Scioli took 15. But Macri won in the central part of the country that makes up the economic hub of the country and contains the most populated area. He beat out Scioli in Mendoza and Santa Fe, and in Cordova and in Buenos Aires.
Scioli won in the strategic province of Buenos Aires, which accounts for 38% of total voters in the country. In the October general elections that chose the new Congress and several governors, the conservative opponent Maria Eugenia Vidal won, defeating President Cristina Fernández’s current chief of staff, Aníbal Fernández.
Argentina’s drastic change of political course sent pundits scurrying to seek explanations. Many attributed Macri’s success in part to Vidal’s prior victory in the province of Buenos Aires While this could have produced a certain “instrumental vote” among local actors fearing a stalemate under a conservative provincial government and a peronist administration, in second round voting Scioli, the current governor of the province, garnered 51.1% of the vote..
The big question, between the October 25 vote and this one, was how the 21% of the vote for Sergio Massa, a dissident Peronist, would be distributed.Also a former chief of staff in the Fernández de Kirchner cabinet, Massi became disaffected and left to lead the opposition party. Although formally he gave his followers “freedom” to vote their conscience, he held a press conference in which he repeated numerous times the word ‘change’—the campaign slogan of the new president-elect. Three-time Governor of Cordoba and renegade Peronist, José Manuel De La Sota, stood by his side.
The question was if Peronism would shoot itself in the foot by supporting a candidate who opposed the party or if they would get behind the Justicialista candidate. Losing the Córdoba province was a blow to the ruling party—it obtained only 30 percent of its 2.5 million voters.
With all these changes of allegiances, doubts are rising: What will become of the Peronism?
On the other hand, the strategy of the Argentine left, which came in a distant fourth in the elections with 3.2 percent of the vote chose a kind of political suicide. With a rightwing party on the verge of taking the presidency, during the second round they promoted a blank vote. They only managed to convince 1.1 percent of the voters to follow them in this initiative.
This will be the first time that the winning candidate that does not come from Peronism or radicalism. Is the rise of the PRO—a right-wing business party that was born after the 2001 crisis and was nurtured by think tanks and foundations—redefining the Argentine political system?
The president-elect’s PRO party proposes a smaller state, less taxes and free market policies. In its campaign rhetoric it softened criticisms of Kirchnerism and proposed to maintain some of its programs, such as the universal allocation per child and the return to state management of recovered state-owned enterprises. For the time being, nothing indicates that this platform will be modified.
According to Macri’s declarations the last few days, he plans to carry out a major devaluation, lift restrictions on the purchase of dollars, and remove taxes on rural producers. His team of ministers confirmed this course in a separate announcement. Conformed of businessmen and women they include his named Minister of Treasury, a former executive of JP Morgan. The biggest novelty is that no branch of Peronism will govern the city of Buenos Aires or the strategic province of Buenos Aires or the country.
A Right Turn in Foreign Policy
During the celebrations at the PRO’s campaign headquarters Costa Salguero, Lilian Tentori, the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, jumped and danced on the stage. Following his victory, Macri repeated that at the next Mercosur Summit on Dec. 21 in Asuncion he would ask for the implementation of the ‘democratic clause’ to exclude the country of Nicolas Maduro.
“We are going to invoke the democratic clause against Venezuela for its abuses and persecution of the opposition,” said the president-elect. He had already said this during the debate before the elections. The President of Ecuador Rafael Correa responded, “Prove there’s political persecution in Venezuela. Like it or not, in Venezuela democracy clearly exists.”
As far as regional policy concerns, the Monday following the victory Macri called for the Mercosur and the Alliance of the Pacific to “converge.” These are two economic blocs with contradictory logics of integration and to advance this union there would have to be structural reforms that would require a likely consensus.
Another point Macri emphasized was his interest in pursuing a free trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union. This has been a long, on-going negotiation that for many years has faced serious obstacles.
Now, the stated desire of the elected president to push it through will surely speed up the process. As a gesture, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated the newly elected president and immediately invited him to Berlin. U.S. President Barack Obama did likewise. Pope Francisco has remained silent on Macri’s win.
The proposals to push the “convergence” of the Mercosur with the Alliance of the Pacific and the to boot Venezuela out of Mercosur both present Macri with an uphill battle to construct the needed consensus.
But in politics, the Argentine right now has the symbolic capital to push the agenda to the right and, when it does, it will force other governments to position themselves for or against it.
Diego Gonzalez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a journalist in Buenos Aires. His blog is www.diegofgonzalez.blogspot.com. TW: @diegon2001. He is an analyst for the Americas Program http://www.americas.org/es/. Julia Muriel Dominzain is a journalist based in Buenos Aires.
Translated by Nicole Rothwell