Buenos Aires Times

argentina SHORING UP SUPPORT

Macri puts on his politician boots as IMF austerity, 2019 election loom

The president held several crisis meetings last week with members of his inner circle, business leaders and“friendly” governors. This week, he kept his focus on fortifying key alliances.

Sunday 20 May, 2018
From left to right: UCR Radical party member Ernesto Sanz, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña, Lower House Speaker Emilio Monzó, Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio, and Governor of Jujuy province Gerardo Morales.
From left to right: UCR Radical party member Ernesto Sanz, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña, Lower House Speaker Emilio Monzó, Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio, and Governor of Jujuy province Gerardo Morales. Foto:PRESIDENCIA

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President Mauricio Macri and his sidekick Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña spent much of the week reining in allies to solidify the government’s shaken political coalition and prevent further gains by an opposition threatening to stymie its reform agenda in Congress. Macri was forced to play the politician this week — a role he hardly relishes given his corporate style of leadership — as the technocrats in his government focused on the damage caused by a currency that, at times, seemed as though it was in freefall. A casual lunch at the Olivos presidential residence on Wednesday culminated in a photo of the founding members of the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition, minus Elisa Carrió who politely declined the invitation.

In attendance were Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio, Ernesto Sanz and Governor of Jujuy province Gerardo Morales, the latter two hailing from the UCR Radical Party, a key coalition ally whose members — particularly Sanz — have long complained of a lack of participation in key government decisions.

“Politics always sort themselves out”, Sanz said following the meeting. For many, it was un unsuprising exercise in Macri-style media management. But the presence of Lower House Speaker Emilio Monzó at the meeting did raise eyebrows. Just two weeks ago, Monzó announced his plans to walk away from his position as the government’s political bridge-builder in Congress if Macri won a second term in 2019. He would prefer an amabassadorial appointment, he said.

“I don’t think they’ll leave as ambassadors, I think they’ll join Peronism”, JP Peronist party trustee Luis Barrionuevo told America’s Animales Sueltos programme on Monday, referring to Frigrerio and Monzó.

“I know them both, they are valuable assets who do not fit in the PRO. They work as the Peronist element of the Cambiemos coaltion but they don’t fit”, he insisted.

SHOW OF FORCE

Macri needs to show his force in local politics in order to impress the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during ongoing negotiations for a “stand-by” line of credit. Less than six months ago, the country was gripped by violent protests over the ruling coalition’s pension reform legislation. With the IMF bound to demand significant austerity measures in exchange for credit, the government needs to ready itself for social and political tension by fortifying its allegiances and preparing its troops for tricky negotiations with opposition parties whose leaders already have their eyes set on 2019.

“I’ve always been very positive and optimistic. Perhaps I set goals for myself and everyone else that were too high”, Macri said, responding to a question by Mexican correspondant Cecilia González during a last-minute press conference at the Olivos presidential palace on Wednesday.

“Our goals were too optimistic and many people are irritated by this”, he said. Like few governments before it, Macri’s watches polls like a hawk and is prone to unleashing its own opinion-gaging machinery in the form of surveys and focus groups. A survey by pollsters D’Alessio Irol/Berensztein suggested this week that 75 percent of Argentines feel that seeking assistance from the IMF is a bad move. The survey of 1,077 people in early May had a margin of error of three percentage points.

Prior to last week’s currency shake-up, the Grupo de Opinión Pública pollster placed Macri eighth among 11 major political figures in the country in terms of positive image. He came in second to former President Cristina Kirchner for preferred national leader. Of 500 people surveyed in Buenos Aires City and Greater Buenos Aires, 59.2 percent had a “bad or very bad” image of Macri against 39.2 percent with a “good or very good” image of the head of state, while 47.6 percent disapproved of his leadership and 13.1 percent approved.

TRUMP FEEDBACK ‘POSITIVE’

On an international front, Macri’s focus has been to shore up support among his allies to send a message of strength and confidence to markets and investors, though investor interest in the country has been minimal despite Macri’s big promises. The president put in a 10-minute telephone call to Donald Trump Monday morning, a conversation the Pink House described as “positive”.

US Treasury officials have supported Argentina’s decision to turn to the IMF. US Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs David Malpass last week “reiterated strong support for the Macri administration’s market-oriented reform programme”. Washington’s support is key since it holds veto power in the IMF.

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