Monday, August 19, 2019
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ARGENTINA | 12-08-2019 16:31

Fontevecchia: Macri, Fernández must begin transition of power now

Alberto Fernández has still not woken up to the fact that he's the virtual president-elect. When he spoke on Sunday evening, upping the ante to gain even more votes in October, he spoke of "in the next two months." His problem starts now, in the next two days.

Mauricio Macri has long been hailed as likely the first non-Peronist president since the return of democracy to end his term in office, without having to bring forward a change of power.

Macri must now study the end of former Radical president Raúl Alfonsín's presidency in 1989 to understand how Alfonsín survived the months between Carlos Menem's win and the transfer of power to Menem, a Peronist.

Alfonsín did not wait all those months for the transfer of power to take place. And today Macri is appearing as a lame duck losing control of the economy, as he waits for a president-elect – or president virtually elected, as is Alberto Fernández – to begin implementing his vision of the country.

Macri will not last without producing some changes and agreements with Alberto Fernández.
 
Alfonsín's problem was that he brought forward the elections. In Macri's case, Sunday's PASO primaries became virtual elections, making Alberto Fernández the virtual president-elect.

Another example was Néstor Kirchner in 2003. He had to wait for a run-off vote against Menem to become president-elect, but the difference in votes in the first round indicated that there was no way Menem could win. Kirchner immediately became "a virtual president-elect."

Alberto Fernández has still not woken up to the fact that he's the president-elect. When he spoke on Sunday evening, upping the ante to gain even more votes in October, he spoke of "in the next two months." 

He showed his lack of understanding: his problem starts now, in the next two days. His problem is that, from now on, what ever happens in the Argentine economy will also be his responsibility.

He shares the same hasty schedule as Mauricio Macri who – in no less than two days – should reach an agreement with Alberto Fernández and create some form of co-governability, working towards an orderly transition of power: the insurmountable difference of 15 percentage points does not allow for Fernández to wait until October, to find out whether there will be a run-off.

Another example in history was when Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, won office in Brazil in 2003. 

In a country with no history of dollarisation, Lula's win saw the dollar jump from 1.80 reais to four. In Brazil, there were only two months between his election and his swearing in – half of what Argentines can expect between August 11 and December 10. And to calm the markets it took Lula's appointment of the president of Bank Boston, Henrique Meirelles – an ultra-orthodox capitalist banker – as the head of the Banco Central do Brasil.

Meireles and Lula halved inflation and lowered the interest rate to its lowest historical rate. And with Meireles as economy minister for Michael Temer, before Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil passed pension reform.

Perhaps Alberto Fernández will, when he takes office, bring with him orthodox economic ideas that don't quite reach the definition of neoliberal, as described by former commerce secretary Guillermo Moreno. 

Perhaps they will be similar to the ideas of fellow presidential candidate Roberto Lavagna, who polled a distant third on Sunday. The conflict, expressed to Perfil a few weeks ago, by Fernández's economic adviser Guillermo Nielsen in describing the candidate for the governorship of Buenos Aires Province, Axel Kicillof, "as a Marxist disguised as a Keynesian" is a good indication of the difference in economic perspective that exists between Alberto Fernández and his running mate, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

With all this said, it is unlikely Alberto Fernández will want to be seen to be "governing" right now, because he may be blamed for what happens in the next few months.

However, Fernández must reveal his economic team soon or risk deceiving the expectations that his voters have, that he can calm the markets. For this, he will also have to invest part of his electoral triumph in order to ensure that he takes charge of an economy that is not in worse condition than it already is.

In a similar sense, Macri cannot wait until the handover of power to hand over power. From Sunday night, power is shared with Alberto Fernández.

In 1989, Alfonsín sent the equivalent of his Cabinet chief, Rodolfo Terragno, to La Rioja to negotiate the transition of power with then president-elect, Menem. The sooner Fernández and Macri realise what cards they have to play – and that there is no time to wait – the better the outcome for them and for Argentina.

Jorge Fontevecchia

Jorge Fontevecchia

Cofundador de Editorial Perfil - CEO de Perfil Network.

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