Wednesday, November 20, 2019
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ARGENTINA | 26-10-2019 08:39

One way, or another

Amid economic and social disarray, voters head to the polls tomorrow as Argentina decides whether to back Alberto Fernández’s unified Peronist ticket or President Maurico Macri’s appeal for four more years.

One way or another, Argentina will wake up to a very different country on Monday.

With runaway inflation expected to hit around 57 percent this year and amid a deep recession that’s lasted since 2018, voters go to the polls tomorrow to choose their next president, as well as a host of other officials, from governors to mayors, across the nation.

Everyone has been aware of the situation for quite some time, but if it needs recounting one more time, here it goes: tomorrow, Mauricio Macri heads into a crunch showdown election, needing something equating to a miracle, if the latest polls and the shock results of the August 11 PASO primaries are to be believed.

The president is seeking four more years, but most onlookers expects Alberto Fernández, the former backstage operator turned frontman for a united Peronist ticket, to be smiling on Sunday night. And alongside him onstage will likely be former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, completing a remarkable political comeback.

Who would’ve predicted, this time last year for example, that the former president would have stepped aside for a critic? The relationship, if the public appearances are to be believed, is fully healed.

“With Cristina, we’re going to put Argentina on its feet ... We’re sure that we know what to do,” Fernández declared before Peronists at his final rally Thursday in Mar del Plata.

“Once and for all, this country will never again fall into the hands of neoliberalism,” declared Fernández de Kirchner, speaking prior to her former Cabinet chief. “Never again, these policies,” she added, taking a dig at the Macri administration.

FEAR

The problem, however, for Argentina right now, is fear of what happens after Sunday. Given the way markets and investors fear the ‘Fernández-Fernández’ ticket, come Monday morning, the nation could be hit by another wave of financial turbulence, as happened in the wake of those decisive PASO primaries, further scalping purchasing power and pushing up inflation even further.

In the last days of trading before the election this week, the peso has weakened again, especially the multiple blackmarket rate.

On Friday, the Central Bank’s reser ves fel l by US$1.76 billion in a single day, the single daily loss since the imposition of capital controls.

Market analysts and investors escalated their warnings this week about Argentina and its debt-laden future. For example, on Friday, “emerging-market veteran” Mark Mobius told Bloomberg TV of his fears for investors.

“That’s what worries me: possible nationalisation of companies. That’s what you have to watch for,” he said, adding that Argentina’s debt would still have a market for buyers, for now.

“I’m not saying it could be a Venezuelan scenario, but you never know,” Mobius continued. “We haven’t seen that before in Argentina, but we have to look very, very carefully at what his people are saying.”

That type of rhetoric – especially references to Venezuela – was matched by figures from Juntos por el Cambio over the past week.

At the start of the week, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich and vice-presidential candidate, Senator Miguel Ángel Pichetto, voiced stronglyworded opinions alleging that recent unrest in Latin America – as witnessed in Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia – was part of a Venezuelan and Cuban plot to “destabilise” the region. It spoke of a last-ditch, desperate, attempt to link the Peronist ticket and former Kirchner administrations to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

A few days later, Governor of Buenos Aires Province María Eugenia Vidal was upping the ante too, treading a similar line as she warned on TV that “on Sunday, we choose whether we are a full democracy or not.”

Macri too returned to the ‘threat’ angle before a huge crowd in his closing rally.

“We don’t want this form of government any more. They’ve tried to come after our liberty,” Macri said at a huge campaign rally in Córdoba, the province which gave him victory in 2015.

“We don’t want to humiliate Córdoba like Cristina Fernández de Kirchner did, who abandoned the province,” he said, playing to the crowd. “Córdoba kneels to no-one.”

It was another example of the more aggressive Macri we’ve seen in the last week of campaigning, as if the president has truly awoken to what lies ahead tomorrow. All that talk about working together and an orderly transition has all but disappeared.

The criticism, the campaigning and the chants have fallen silent. The country is at a crossroads, now voters will decide Argentina’s path.

James Grainger

James Grainger

Editor-in-Chief, Buenos Aires Times.

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