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ARGENTINA | 16-02-2019 10:50

Warning signs flash for Macri’s re-election hopes

New survey shows that 7 out of 10 Argentines believe country is on wrong path, as protesters and inflation data cause further headaches for president’s hopes of winning a second term.

More than seven out of ten Argentines believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, a new survey revealed this week, as Mauricio Macri’s reelection hopes were hit by a week rife with troubling signs for the president and his administration.

On Friday, a new Ipsos Global Advisor poll indicated that 71 percent of Argentines believe the country is on the wrong path, an 11-percentage point drop from the responses one month ago in December. The remaining 29 percent approved of the country’s current path.

Illustrating the extent of the unrest among some Argentines, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across the country this week to demand that the government put an end to suffocating price increases and falling purchasing-power. Inflation hit 48 percent in 2018, the highest in 28 years.

In January, consumer prices rose 2.9 percent, according to data from the INDEC national statistics bureau released on Thursday. That figure was higher than most analysts – and the president – expected. Just a day earlier, Macri had told a local radio station that “inflation is starting to lower.”

“There are a lot of angry and anguished people because it costs more to get to the end of the month. But this is the only way, and the economy is going to improve slowly,” the president told the FM Pasión radio station in San Luis province.

Macri described the difficulties he has faced since coming to power in 2015, saying that living standards had “clashed with a reality that Argentina had been living beyond its means, with governments spending more than they had.”

POLLS

The president’s clear delineation in his comments, underlining the extent of the differences between his version of Argentina’s future and that of his likely main rival in the election in October, indicates once again that the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition will train their fire on Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the weeks ahead.

Though the ex-president hasn’t confirmed she will run in October, sources close to her camp have told some outlets that is her intention. Two weeks ago, two unnamed associates broke ground to confirm her presidential run to the Reuters news agency.

As the electoral season gets underway, President Macri has come under pressure, both from troubling economic data and his main political opponent, Fernández de Kirchner, now a sitting senator for Buenos Aires province.

In the polls – a week before facing her first trial for corruption begins, on February 25 – the former president leads the incumbent 33.3 percent to 30.3 percent in positive image, according to political consultancy Synopsis’ latest figures.

While Macri’s negative image, at 52.1 percent, is lower than Cristina’s (53.7 percent), the net balance still favours the former president by more than a percentage point.

Looking down on everyone from above is Buenos Aires Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal with a positive standing of 43.5 percent, according to the report released this week.

Other polls of late, however, have made for kinder reading for President Macri. In an Isnomia poll conducted back in December last year, 37 percent of respondents said they would vote for the Cambiemos leader, while less than a third, 29 percent, said they would vote for Fernández de Kirchner.

Presidential elections will be held on October 27 this year.

UNREST

On Wednesday, the protest season began in earnest as thousands of protesters demonstrated in cities across the country, calling on the Macri administration to declare a “food emergency” and put an end to rising utility and transport prices.

Social and activist groups deployed their forces with massive demonstrations in 50 cities to demand that the government declare a food emergency and cut back on household bill hikes..

Falling purchasing power and recent hikes to the cost of living have sparked outrage against the government. Electricity and gas bills have soared since President Mauricio Macri took office in 2015, after he moved to slash more than a decade of heavy Kirchnerite-era subsidies which had distorted utility prices.

“We are losing work, food, education, housing... it’s desperation that is emerging among our people,” said Osvaldo Ulacio, 60, as he marched in the capital.

“They have left us no other tool than to come out in the streets to fight for our rights,” added 29-year-old Diego Quintero.

Groups started demonstrating at 10am in Buenos Aires, blocking traffic across Avenida de Mayo from Paraná to 9 de Julio, with protesters converging on the Obelisk.

The Confederación de Trabajadores de la Economía Popular (CTEP), the Corriente Clasista y Combativa (CCC), Barrios de Pie, Frente Popular Darío Santillán and the Frente de Organizaciones en Lucha (FOL) were among those who united for the rally, which went on until 2pm.

Demonstration leaders Esteban Castro, Juan Carlos Alderete and Daniel Menéndez spoke on a stage in front of the thousands gathered on the avenue.

“Hunger has returned to our neighbourhoods, it’s the worst year since the 2001 crisis and we won’t stand it any more,” said Daniel Menéndez, one of the protest leaders.

Argentina was gripped by an economic crisis last year that forced Macri to agree to a US$56-billion bailout loan with the International Monetary Fund. It was sparked by a fall in confidence in the currency, with the peso losing more than half its value against the dollar last year, while inflation finished 2018 at 47.6 percent.

The country officially entered recession in December after the INDEC statistics bureau revealed the economy had diminished during the third quarter of 2018, the second quarter in a row it had done so.

“This is a serious crisis, with falling wages [down 20 percent from last January] and the closure of many factories and stores. Our soup kitchens are full of people,” said Juan Carlos Alderete, another protest leader.

As Argentina’s next election approaches, protesters are urging the government to offer more help to those suffering most from economic turmoil. The International Monetary Fund predicts that GDP will fall by 2.6 percent this year.

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