President Mauricio Macri defends his questionable
record on poverty saying that many Argentines
were living “in the poo,” because they had no sewers
before. A man takes a picture of former president
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on a plane and her
followers publish his postal address for
protesters to go after him. Congresswoman
Elisa Carrió campaigns in Santa Fe, calling
a gubernatorial candidate a ‘narco’ boss
and in Córdoba celebrates the recent death
of a former governor in a car crash . Former
domestic trade secretary Guillermo Moreno says in a rally that it is OK to be corrupt,
as long as you are subtle about it.
Argentina’s political system is never
very civilised, but the grotesque becomes
more visible when the country’s economy
begins to spiral down into crisis, as seems
to be the case now. Politicos have a reason
to be losing their nerve: they will, through
June 22, be jockeying for position until the
final slates with the candidacies for this year’s general
elections are drafted.
But they might also be playing with fire. At the pace events
are moving, late June looks like the distant future and, all
of a sudden, instead of debating who can provide Argentines
with a better life, everyone is looking around to find culprits
for the current
In a historical
perspective, Macri is about to
muster an outstanding political
feat: to be the first
non-Peronist president to complete
an elected term in
almost a century
(the last was Marcelo T. de Alvear,
back in 1928).
That, per se, places him in history
books. Unfortunately, market
operatives do not
care much for history. Neither do
the larger part of
the public, who is struggling to make ends meet because of
untamable inflation and rising unemployment.
Politics is cruel. The business establishment – which once
hailed Macri as the country’s anti-populist hero – is now
voicing out in the open its concerns about his electoral prospects, as they begin fear a comeback by Fernández de Kirchner, a state of affairs that was, until recently, unthinkable.
And, as business leaders tend to do when they stick their
nose into politics, they want magic.
Their latest ‘spell’ is María Eugenia Vidal, the governor of
Buenos Aires Province, where almost 40 percent of Argentines live – and vote. Throughout Macri’s
presidency, Vidal has retained approval
ratings that are consistently higher than
the president’s by some 10 or so percentage
points. Businesspeople, who likely get rich
because they are good with simple numbers, do their quick math: if Fernández de
Kirchner beats Macri by nine points, according to some recent polls, and Vidal is 10
percentage points ahead of Macri, then the
governor would beat the former president
by at least one point. But in politics, two
plus two does not always make four.
Let’s look at history, once again. No Buenos Aires province governor has ever won
a presidential election. A few have tried,
with fair chances: Eduardo Duhalde lost to Fernando de la
Rúa in 1999; and Daniel Scioli to Macri in 2015. Both were,
at one point, the favourite in their races. Why would the incumbent governor be a first?
Vidal has been the rising star of Argentina politics since
she scored an upset win in the 2015 gubernatorial election
that largely catapulted Macri to the Casa Rosada. On Tuesday
she gave an hour-long speech before the entire business establishment detailing her administration’s work in the province, but the business big shots were only interested in the
one question that came up repeatedly and stubbornly in the
Q&A session: will you run for president?
She said no. Macri has also said she would say no (and
said it again this week). On Thursday Buenos Aires Mayor
Horacio Rodríguez Larreta also said no. The ruling party
repeats in chorus there is no Plan B, or Plan V, and that
Macri will run, no matter how many pesos you need to buy
a greenback come June. And the president may be right
here, even if he ends up losing. Exiting the race in the last
minute because economic quagmire could lead to eventual
defeat would also be a blow for Vidal, or any other member
of his team who could step into his position.
The country’s sad reality is more complex than a candidacy, though. There is no magic spell that to be cast in this
exhausting electoral year, be it by the government or the
opposition. The current debt/currency crisis started exactly
a year ago this week. Back then, you only needed 20 pesos
to acquire a US dollar. In the process, inflation has racked
up over 50 percent, poverty and unemployment have gone
up, the government signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund and then redesigned it a few months
No matter who wins the election, the future does not look
bright right now: a debt crisis looms and trust does not
abound. Will the leadership be up to the challenge?