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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 18-05-2019 10:35

Polarisation bends, but does not break

Will moderation ever pay off again in Argentina? Or is it just too boring?

The provincial results in Córdoba last Sunday, with Governor Juan Schiaretti bagging 54 percent of the vote and crushing his two opponents from a clumsily divided national government alliance, raised hopes that it could. But those hopes were quashed quickly, as crossed pressure on the Supreme Court, over the legal situation of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, this week hinted that polarisation was still in a healthy state.

In his victory speech, Schiaretti sought to define the limits of a middle-of-the-ground position that he said would kill off the “harmful” partition widely known as ‘la grieta.’ To illustrate this, he said he believed in retaining fiscal equilibrium, something President Mauricio Macri does; but also with some state intervention in the economy, like Fernández de Kirchner. And he noted there would be no democracy in Argentina without Peronism, yet also that there would be no Peronism if Peronism is not republican. Touché, both ways.

For a moment, a Schiaretti presidential candidacy, as a quick solution to the country’s political conundrum, became a fantasy in the minds of many people in the political and business establishment, which seems bent on a collision course with a Macri-CFK confrontation. The governor-elect hurried out to say he was not “the alpha male” of the centrist, no-K Peronists, and that the provincial results could not be projected nationally.

But they can, somehow. So far, eight provinces have held local elections. Four have already voted in new governors, while another four have held primaries. And there are a handful of conclusions to draw. First, voters are picking mostly centrist, pragmatic ruling parties. Second, Macri’s Cambiemos alliance is underperfor - ming and even imploding at times, as in the case of Córdoba. Third, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has little influence in the Justicialist Party, outside Buenos Aires Province.

A month before nominations are to be registered, on June 22, Fernández de Kirchner is on the offensive and Macri is struggling to keep his coalition alive. The ex-president showed up unannounced this week to a meeting of the PJ’s national leadership. After showing signs of moderation during her book presentation on May 9, she now called for the establishment of a “broad coalition,” with her “in whatever place is better” in order to guarantee a victory. Her old (and new) right-hand man, former Cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez said she would be willing to compete against other candidates in the August 12 primary, if necessary. “The problem is not that Cristina does not want to compete, the problem is that nobody wants to compete against Cristina,” he said.

Public opinion polls from the first two weeks of May are showing that, far from wavering, the two main poles (Macri, CFK) are consolidating their positions. The former president’s self-control seems to have gone down well among potential voters. But after a legal tussle that climbed all the way to the Supreme Court and continues to illustrate the dramatic political contamination of Argentina’s Judiciary, Fernández de Kirchner is scheduled to face her first public trial on corruption charges on Tuesday. The case into the alleged diversion of funds for public work projects – to fill the pockets of cronies – will force the Unidad Ciudadana leader to be photographed in the dock, next to discredited figures such as businessman Lázaro Baez, her former planning minister Julio De Vido and former public works secretary José López. Yes, that López, the one who became famous for trying to hide bags filled with millions of dollars in a convent.

Macri, on the contrary, is ducking friendly fire. Tired of being left out of decision-making circles, in a government with no results to show on the economic front, the centrist Radical Party (UCR) is exacerbating pressure on the president on the eve of its National Convention on May 27, when they are due to decide what to do with their alliance with the Macri’s PRO party. Many Radicals reportedly want to jump ship, but with former economy minister Roberto Lavagna not picking up pace in the polls, many believe there aren’t many places to jump ship to. “We need to make Cambiemos wider, include Peronists and we cannot rule out the possibility of having a candidate other than Macri,” said the head of the UCR, Mendoza Governor Alfredo Cornejo. The most likely outcome is that the Radicals will let Macri run but get something grand in exchange, such as the vice-presidential candidacy.

Contrary to the century-old party’s founding slogan, they might bend, but they don’t break.

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Marcelo J. Garcia

Marcelo J. Garcia

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