"It's politics, stupid," could be one of the phrases adopted by Sergio Massa, who now accuses electoral strategy of messing up the economy.
Argentina’s economy minister anticipated last week’s inflation data – 8.4 percent in April, the highest inflation figure since 2002 – by returning to the political definitions that he decided to abandon nine months ago, when he took over as head of the portfolio.
Now, with the possibility of a candidacy no longer supported by even the most optimistic members of Frente de Todos, he has decided to resist, to speak as a candidate and to demand that there be no competition for the ruling coalition’s nomination in the PASO primaries.
Massa knew that last Friday's inflation figure would leave him with little electoral expectation, so he had to take the initiative himself, showing off strength that he no longer sustains with economic results. His team believes that strength could be displayed with his rhetoric and he has decided to highlight himself as one of the coalition’s most important leaders of the space, giving definitions that could shake up Frente de Todos.
The economy minister's last moves were carefully timed. Last Tuesday he made his first electoral statement at the AmCham summit, assuring business leaders that he was against the PASO. Last Wednesday he went a little further by explaining that time cannot be wasted on sterile primaries, and then he went further: "We can't afford any more trouble, we need political order so that there can be economic order." In other words: if he cannot fix the economy, the blame lies with politics. The previous culprits had been a run on the exchange rate and the figure of Antonio Aracre, the former presidential advisor who recently resigned.
Last week Massa spoke as a candidate because he believes he can still be one. Before the inflation data was published, there were only a few leaders in Frente de Todos who supported this hypothesis. Now only the CGT umbrella union grouping is calling for his name.
The minister resists and speaks of an electoral scenario without internal elections. This is a marked difference with President Alberto Fernández’s preferred electoral strategy. The head of state believes that Massa's call for no competition is a "horrible message" and in no way believes that the PASOs generate instability, as the economy minister suggested. "Democracy and the vote can never generate instability," the president told his inner circle.
The head of state insists that the primaries can instead generate mobilisation and additional votes. "It is a debate we have been having for years," he acknowledges in private. The differences have not been resolved. The meeting between the president, the economy minister and Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has not taken place. The president has still not called them together to define electoral strategy.
Kirchnerism is also against a competitive PASO, but in recent months its leaders have begun to admit that the possibility remains, especially without a definition from the vice-president about her own plans and preferences. Interior Minister Eduardo ‘Wado’ De Pedro said recently that this was the scenario to which the president had led them and that they are willing to compete. He is one of the possible candidates. The possibility of CFK blessing Massa as the only candidate on the ticket seems to have been put aside.
The economy minister’s words went unheeded by the candidates who have already launched their campaigns. Last week, the streets of Buenos Aires City and some districts in the conurbano bonaerense started to be papered with the phrase "Daniel 2023." Argentina’s ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Scioli, assures that he will not drop out of the electoral race and that he will compete in the primaries, regardless of the other names that are finally put forward. "If neither Alberto Fernández nor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner are on the field, Massa's claim is incomprehensible. If Sergio had inflation at three percent, he would be the only candidate. With inflation at eight [percent], he should go to an internal election and stop saying that the economy is being calmed. It sounds like a threat to the coalition, rather than a political proposal to define candidacies," said one figure from Scioli's entourage.
Social leader Juan Grabois, with whom Massa has strong differences, says that he will win a primary against the economy minister. The Movimiento de Trabajadores Excluídos ("Movement of Excluded Workers") leader is willing to compete if there is no candidate to represent him (they would be De Pedro or Fernández de Kirchner). The vice-president, however, remains silent and the definition of a candidate, or candidates, is being stretched.