The popular radio host in Córdoba was virtually shouting as he delivered his forecast to President Mauricio Macri, during a live interview on Wednesday. “You are going to lose the elections, Mauricio!” he declared. The host sounded sad, but like he wanted to be honest with the president.
Cadena 3’s Mario Pereyra had put in words the fear that is creeping inside the president’s inner circle week after week. As the electoral season approaches and the economy continues to sink into recession, every indicator that has to go up, goes down, and vice-versa. The prospect of a defeat in October’s vote seems to becoming more real as each day passes.
“Argentines need to hold on,” the president responded to Pereyra. But can Macri hold on?
The Casa Rosada has outlined a campaign strategy that needs the economy to remain stable until August and improve, at least slightly, by October and November. Every peso the US dollar climbs plays against the first goal, sending shivers down the spines of the campaign brains, who know that a run on the currency à la April or August 2018 would mean game over for Macri’s chances.
Aloof to the vivid negative results the economic programme is showing, Macri only speaks about staying the course, no matter what. This week he said in a public interview with the writer Mario Vargas Llosa that if he won re-election, his second term would lead the country “in the same direction we are now, but much faster.” The president said he regretted that, unlike during his time as president of Boca Juniors, “there is no [Juan Román] Riquelme to save us now.”
The meaning of “faster” will be up for political interpretation as the campaign progresses. Macri is unlikely to deliver the fine print of the further reforms he would try to push forward. Government strategists believe at present that the president can get away, as he did in the 2015 presidential campaign, without elaborating too much. Macri and his team argue that their way is the only way, and that the constant praise the president gets from foreign leaders (such as from the King of Spain this week) only confirms that, time and again. They might be right.
But for now, the government is letting others do its talking for it, telling Argentines what the future could bring. One of them is the economic bureaucrats who lead the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the club of economic champions which, for some time, Macri has yearned for Argentina to be a part of.
“Structural reforms hold the key to stronger growth,” read a report presented at the Economy Ministry this week by Álvaro Santos Pereira, the director of the country studies branch in the OECD Economics Department. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has echoed this view. The names of the reforms are always the same: pension, labour, tax. The political hurdles to advance them are also, always, the same.
The president’s campaign plan has two teams and two missions: ‘Team Economics’ needs to prevent a run on the peso, at any cost. ‘Team Politics’ has to qualify Macri for the second round in November – and then win it. Team E is led by Treasury Minister Nicolás Dujovne and Central Bank Governor Guido Sandleris; Team P, by Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña and the maverick Ecuadorean campaign expert Jaime Durán Barba. The two teams are not always on good terms with each other, and they are their mutual impedimenta. The campaign strategy needs Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to be the main challenger; however, the chances of economic survival through to November would improve dramatically if the former president was out of the political picture for good. Put together, the two could become a time bomb for the ruling party.
President Macri will have different political personalities as the electoral year progresses. Up until the August PASO primary, he will concentrate on consolidating his hardcore of voters. Goal number one is to actually make it to the second round. Between August and October, depending on the state of the economy, the Cambiemos leader will hope to grow his support among a portion of independent voters, who will have more visibility after the primaries. If, and possibly only if Fernández de Kirchner is his rival in a second round in November, Macri could hope to muster a majority again in a society that will be knackered after an entire year of voting. But for that to happen, his government first has to hold on.