President Maur icio Macr i might have had the minority government status of his administration rubbed in his face this week but recent events in Spain and Italy (the motherlands of over two-thirds of the Argentine population) should also place his governability problems in perspective. In those countries the birth and the death of governments are creating severe problems alike. Only yesterday Spain suffered the shock of losing its prime minister of seven years when Mariano Rajoy was ousted by a vote of non-confidence (even if many Spaniards might have been more staggered by the abrupt exit of Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane shortly beforehand, only five days after clinching a Champions League cup treble). On the same note, Italy gave birth to a government whose very prospect has been causing international market turbulence for some days now – a combination of the left-leaning anti-establishment Five-Star Movement and the far right xenophobes of The (originally Lombard, then Northern) League, strange bedfellows indeed who would make Macri’s coalition look like a model of consistency. The per capita incomes of Spain and Italy might be almost four times higher than Argentina’s but a much more advanced economic development does not protect the political systems of these countries from suffering greater havoc from shared problems like populism and corruption.
These extreme political upheavals in the Mediterranean might offer Macri some perspective but little comfort for what remains a bad week at the office. While not leaving him in any immediate danger like Rajoy, the vetoed Senate bill to roll back steep utility bill increases hurts Macri in two of his most sensitive spots – control of the agenda and image.
The loss of control emerges from both before and after the event. Before because he could not head off an inevitable collision course despite pulling all strings – inevitable because the Peronist opposition was never going to abstain from cashing in on the unpopularity of the drastic gas and electricty bill increases, while Macri had no room to give ground when in the midst of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (he could hardly set back fiscal deficit reduction by several billion dollars through restoring subsidies). But the bill itself – vetoed with a certain but limited political cost – was less of a trauma for Macri than the new parliamentary horizons it creates. That 35-30 Senate vote in the small hours of Thursday seems to doom over two years of successful ‘divide and rule’ between Kirchnerism and the more moderate strands of Peronism. Gridlock thus looms for a minority government. As for image, the presidential veto is a constitutional prerogative but one man crushing the collective verdict of the representatives of the people still looks ugly in democratic terms.
A cloud on the horizon and a definite bump in the highway for Macri then. However, his yellow car remains on the road – far from being out of office like Rajoy, his re-election next year still seems probable if no longer almost inevitable while populism looks light years away from power, unlike in Italy. Looking abroad, Macri enters a comfort zone and not just because of these favourable comparisons with the Mediterranean world – his prestige as G20 chair aids him in his relatively smooth negotiations with the IMF to secure a lifeline out of the recent financial crisis, bringing him the unanimous if vague endorsements of his G20 colleagues. Nonetheless, this is another timely reminder to the president – he should not forget that politics begins at home.