Is this angry Macri the president Argentines voted for?
Macri, who initially marketed himself as a person more inclined to Buddhist harmonisation rather than psychoanalytical conflict, now seems to believe that his wildcard to re-election is passion rather than reason.
If there remained any doubt that this year’s presidential
campaign would be ruthless, politically crippling and void
of civilised debate, President Mauricio Macri’s annual address to Congress yesterday all but erased it.
The president did not read, but shouted, a 6,105-word, onehour-long speech to open the 137th session of Congress, only
diverting from the script on a couple of occasions to bully the
Peronist-Kirchnerite opposition to his left
(both literally and politically), who systematically yelled out their own discontent at the
president’s words, with or without a microphone. “Your abuse, your insults, speak
more about you than about me,” Macri pushed back defiantly, at all times shouting.
One of the president’s three declared
goals for governance, upon taking office in
December 2015, was to unite Argentines.
Unless those who serve as deputies and
senators are not actually Argentines,
Macri’s last address of his first term did not
even keep up the pretence.
Throughout his presidency, but most
especially since the beginning of this campaign year, Macri’s inner circle has squabbled internally over whether to seek broad
political agreements, both within and outside the ruling
coalition, or to cluster everything around a handful of ultraloyal members of the
president’s own party,
PRO. The president’s
words, and most especially this angered delivery,
has settled the dispute.
The poker faces kept up
by Lower House Speaker
Emilio Monzó and Senate provisional head Federico Pinedo – who along
with Vice-President Gabriela Michetti flanked
the bellowing head of state during the speech – were the visual manifestation of the Casa Rosada’s
decision to burn all remaining bridges with the
The president made only one concrete announcement in his
speech: a 46-percent increase of the Universal Child
Allowance(AUH, in its acronym in Spanish) welfare payment.
Deployed early in the campaign, this is the silver bullet the
government had in its austerity programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which targets zero primary fiscal
deficit this year – a safeguard in the agreement allows the
administration to deviate from its target by 0.2 percentage
points, but only if the cash goes to social welfare.
This follows on from other recent policies intending to kick
the moribund economy alive, while remaining within the strict
limits of the fiscal restraints. This week, for example, the president also launched a 100-billion-peso credit-line programme
for small- and medium-sized businesses at
subsidised interest rates, as well as ruling
that an increase of the minimum wage,
originally scheduled for June, would be
pushed forward to March.
Every penny counts in a tight race. The
president’s campaign team continues to
work on the base scenario that feeding
political confrontation (a.k.a. ‘la grieta’)
would ultimately steer the elections toward
a penalty shoot-out between Macri and his
political antithesis, Cristina Fernández de
Kirchner. Predictably, but not less absurd,
the former president and senator for Buenos Aires province flew to Santa Cruz in
order to skip yesterday’s congressional
assembly. (That Macri and Fernández de
Kirchner could not agree on an appointment
to hand over the presidential sash and baton in December,
2015, should never be forgotten.)
In this game of mirrors, Macri is increasingly looking like
Mrs. Kirchner’s worst past face. In the final sprint of his
speech, a red-faced Macri roared “C’mon, Argentina; C’mon,
Argentina” like he was in a football stadium, verging on tears
as he did during the November G20 summit in Buenos Aires,
when he wept at the end of a gala for visiting leaders at the
Watching him on TV, one obvious question arose: is this
emotional, cyclothymic Macri really the person Argentines
voted to be president? If we remember, much was said during
the last years of Fernández de Kirchner’s time in office (not
without a certain dab of misogyny) about the former president’s
alleged bipolar personality. Macri, who initially marketed
himself as a person more inclined to Buddhist harmonisation
rather than psychoanalytical conflict, now seems to believe
that his wildcard to re-election is passion rather than reason.
For an Argentina beyond (or maybe during) 2019, this option
is tricky. With the economy facing structural stress and heading toward a debt crisis of some sort perhaps as early as
next year, the political outcome of a brutish confrontation this
year would only be uncertainty, even if Macri’s spin-doctors
are right and the government walks away with victory. By now,
the president should have learned, the hard way, that divisions
can be instrumental in winning elections but crippling when
it comes to governing the riddle that is Argentina, day in, day
out. Yelling will be no recipe for that.