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OP-ED | 28-10-2017 12:50

Editorial: Midterm mandate gives Macri momentum

In the next few months it thus remains to be seen whether Macri will prove to be a Macron or a Macrito.

In our editorial published the day before last Sunday’s midterm elections we urged citizens to consider both sides of the question before voting – on the one hand, a stronger government would be beneficial given Argentina’s negative historical experiences of a weak presidency and on the other, any executive empowerment in an over-centralised country with a hyperpresidential democracy tends to create ‘hegemonic’ temptations. We would be flattering ourselves unduly were we to fondly imagine that the Argentine electorate as a whole read that editorial and then in its wisdom vowed to strike a balance somehow combining these two recommendations, but that is more or less what happened last Sunday.

President Mauricio Macri undoubtedly emerges as the big winner after triumphing in over half the nation’s 24 districts, including by far the largest, Buenos Aires province, where his Let’s Change (Cambiemos) coalition faced down a strong challenge from his predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Yet he remains shy of any overall majority in both houses of Congress – a singularly polarised election which was especially harsh on those attempting to stake out the middle ground (as the British Labour politician Ernest Bevin said, “The trouble with standing in the middle of the road is that you tend to get run over”) has nevertheless upheld a pluralistic parliament with over half the senators (38 of the 72) and a third of the deputies (83 of the 257) responding to neither Macri nor Kirchnerism. Yet within these limits Macri indisputably enjoys a stronger hand with greater scope to steer his legislation through Congress. This strength perhaps stems less from his own numbers than opposition disarray amidst an unresolved Peronist succession – political science offers numerous examples (some British Conservative governments might be a case in point) whereby a ruling party majority makes for far less comfortable governance than a minority facing a vulnerable opposition.

There was plenty of euphoria on election night (to the point of virtually dancing on Santiago Maldonado’s grave, after observing more decorum in the closing days of the campaign) but that celebratory mood might be dimmed in the light of the pressure this midterm mandate places on Macri to frontload his reform programme. After all in this same year we have seen a leader with an almost identical surname – France’s Emmanuel Macron – sweep to a far more impressive landslide than last Sunday’s midterms (360 of the 577 National Assembly seats for En Marche), only to see that popularity plunge when he moved quickly to translate that electoral success into structural reforms.

In the next few months it thus remains to be seen whether Macri will prove to be a Macron or a Macrito. In the first week since the election there have been indications pointing in both directions. On the one hand, the fuel price increases the day after the midterms and Thursday’s announcement of steep ABL municipal rates and property tax increases both seem forerunners to biting the bullet – the latter move in particular suggests a general trend to shift the tax burden from the corporate sector to the private citizen.

Yet postponing yesterday’s meeting with provincial governors to Monday’s multisectorial gathering shows every sign of deferring hard-headed negotiations on future revenue-sharing in favour of vague declarations of good intentions – on this basis Macri devotes his energies to a secondary agenda such as jailing the likes of ex-minister Julio De Vido more than serious structural reform. But before the nation votes again in two years’ time the real Macri will have to stand up.

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