From Peronist Senate stalwart to vice-presidential candidate. President Mauricio Macri’s running-mate, Miguel Ángel Pichetto explains why Juntos por el Cambio can still win in October.
Miguel Ángel Pichetto’s leap into the Juntos por el Cambio coalition turned politics completely upside-down. But then came heavy defeat in the PASOs. But despite the loss, President Mauricio Macri’s vice-presidential running-mate still thinks it possible to turn the election around.
You said there was a middle-class backlash [in the PASOs]. How did Juntos por el Cambio come to lose what should be its natural part of the vote?
That is something recognised by the president himself. Last year’s two devaluations [in April and August] sparked a discontent arising from the loss of purchasing-power, as well as falling demand for typically middle-class economic sectors such as small and medium-sized enterprises (PyMEs). That’s something you notice going around the country and perhaps it was not clearly picked up by the pollsters and the pundits.
The president’s recent measures aim for a correct reading of the vote of the citizenry. There was a protest which met with a rapid and intelligent response, introducing issues which tend to improve purchasing-power. Such as for the worker, in terms of his income tax floor, to which should be added the elimination of IVA [value-added taxation] for food and a moratoria of almost 10 years for the PyMEs, thus making their tax arrears more flexible. There were also measures to defend jobs. The president thus analysed the popular vote, sized it up and acted in consequence.
Alberto Fernández won 47 percent but since the PASO count includes blank and spoiled ballots, while the real elections don’t, this would give him 49 percent, so that with the three percent of the left, he would also win the run-off. So does the future of Cambiemos depend on Alberto Fernández making a mistake?
In a country with greater political and social stability, this result could be considered irreversible. Although this Argentine anomaly of the primaries – which are almost an advance election – chart a course, they do not categorically define the state of the electorate in October. In short, Alberto Fernández has not already won the presidential elections.
The only valid conclusion is that he was the candidate who picked up the most votes. The interpretation of some pundits and some media that we are in the midst of a transition is erroneous. That transition will begin as from October 28, according to whether or not the electoral result confirms his triumph.
It is true that every politician harbours a chronic optimism but if we can reach a scenario within striking distance of a run-off, it would be possible to turn this around. I think that some sectors voted in order to attract attention, while there were also various minorities. I would place these intermediate sectors at 13-15 percent of the electorate. And furthermore, tactical voting will play a role in October, to which should be added those too indifferent to go and vote in the PASO. Our volume [of votes] will expand considerably on October 27.
Even so, with the current 49 percent for Frente de Todos, plus the three percent for the left, Juntos por el Cambio could not win a run-off.
Yes, but mathematics and politics are often on a collision course. Two and two does not always make four in politics. Such rigid schematism does not apply to politics, which is a more human and imperfect science.
There was a widespread protest backlash. These angry people are reconsidering their vote when they see where Argentina is heading, also with a view to defending the institutions, civic freedoms and an independent judicial system. These values will also be issues to analyse.
It is repeatedly said that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner “is in hiding.” Is that because Frente de Todos know that it is their election to lose and have therefore decided not to expose her in order to avoid her mistakes?
Some of them have already been committed by Alberto.
Giving a very categorical definition on abortion without any pressure. He affirmed that he’s going to be the president who passes that law, an issue which splits Argentina down the middle! It’s striking that in the Synod’s recent meeting with the candidate they had absolutely nothing to say. That’s very interesting. I say that as an analysis. The Synod spoke about poverty but it seems they forgot to talk about the right to life, an issue which worries many people.
An initial error?
I would say that a presidential candidate does not need to define a position when he has not done so beforehand.
And would that cost him votes?
It was also an error to attack President Jair Bolsonaro [too]. If I had been in his place, the first thing I would have done is to visit the Brazilian ambassador to inform him of the need to get to know Bolsonaro. I would have sought a rapprochement and to transmit a more moderate outlook.
What other errors might he commit?
Some are budding and nobody sees them.
Since everybody loves a winner, which is always an important factor, he does not get any criticism from most journalists. Criticism is currently much more centralised on the government than on the PASO winner. Something which always happens.
Would the presidential debate be an opportunity for the government to regain votes?
Yes, because there will be a whole bunch of issues of great importance at stake. Thus everybody might agree on the idea of wanting Argentina to export. OK, but what’s your position on the European Union? “Ah, no, don’t like it,” they tell us. Issues like the relationship with Europe or the United States are not secondary. Whether the relationship will be with Western countries or whether we will return to an international policy of ties with Russia and China, the BRICS, oil producers, the old logic of the last phase of Kirchnerismo.
Have you and Elisa Carrió been picked to carry forward the second phase of the campaign?
I’ve been picked as the vice-presidential candidate. Carrió is an important leader who has shown a tough attitude in the face of adversity. We’ve both lost elections because in politics you win and lose.
So what you share with Carrió is that you have both lost elections, something yet to happen to Cambiemos?
Yes, I’m incorporating a new and almost psycho-analytical concept into politics, which is called resilience, how to administer disappointment. Having the capacity to resist adversity, pull yourself up and give battle.
The Radicals have also known defeat.
Of course. Having had the experience myself, it’s something very traumatic with complex sensations. Deep down a politician is an incomplete person.
In what way?
The politician seeks social recognition and that recognition is expressed via the vote. When they lose, politicians feel that they have no recognition and that hits them deep inside. It hurt me greatly to lose twice as gubernatorial candidate, after having been elected a senator twice and being a mayor at a young age.
The opinion polls previously underestimated the Fernández-Fernández ticket, could they now be equally mistaken in overestimating it?
Logically enough. There is a false build-up going on now. Some say there is already a transition when there is none.
The markets have signalled that they see the situation as irreversible.
It seems to me that words like “impossible” or “irreversible” are too rigid for the Argentine political scene. I say there is no transition because there is no president-elect, there is only a candidate with the most votes.
Did anybody tell the President that night or the next day that, without having slept, it was not a good idea to face a press conference?
In all sincerity I believe it was a mistake. Perhaps he should have also avoided the Sunday night press conference when a word from the president recognising the result would have been enough, showing a democratic attitude. He told the Argentine people: “I lost and Alberto Fernández won” and should have taken a break from that point on.
And to what do you attribute that?
To habit, and to a culture incorporated within the political structure of Juntos por el Cambio: face the music. A defeat is always difficult to explain.
Should Kirchnerismo triumph electorally, how would you imagine the coexistence between its different sectors?
Complex, very complex. They’re going to have to boost presidential power first.
You managed the Senate during the entire period when Alberto was Cabinet chief, what was that Alberto Fernández like?
There was always dialogue and respect. He was an unconditional Kirchner loyalist, always doing what [Néstor] Kirchner asked of him, what he had to do. Some of the problems started there. For example, the clash with the media and the handling of state advertising, which Perfil also experienced very directly.
Alberto was firm and harsh. He also helped to construct the multi-party convergence with the idea of staying in power forever. His vision was that second presidential terms are weak and to be avoided. I know because I was a victim of his multi-party line-ups, narrowly losing the elections in Río Negro.
Are there any parallels between you and him?
We have a history of political construction, of seeking a political vision for Argentina. We also have differences of style. I’m an electoral product – I’ve won and lost elections, I’ve never been in a post depending on a decree. And my gamble is the construction of a different country, a country which emerges from the logic of the grieta confrontation where the institutions function. A country integrated into the world with fiscal order. Things which this government achieved and perhaps has not explained correctly.