Transition of power

On Sunday the 27th of October, Argentina will vote in an election that was essentially decided in August. The unexpected margin of Alberto Fernandez’s primary victory has given the upcoming vote an air of inevitability, with polls – so shamefully wide of the mark in August that resignations took place at leading pollsters – quietly forecasting the Alberto Fernandez and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner ticket maintaining, if not increasing, their seventeen-point lead over incumbent President Mauricio Macri.

What is clear cut and doesn’t need to rely on polling numbers, is that the economy matters. The area where Macri and his much-lauded technocrats were predicted to be strongest, ended up being their weakest. Even with a ticking time-bomb of an inheritance in 2015, the current administration has failed miserably in reducing poverty and the country’s longest foe, inflation. Two presidential debates – now mandatory for presidential hopefuls – took place this month and demonstrated Macri’s failure to deliver on the economy and debt as being too clear for him to mount a significant revival. There was an overconfidence in 2015 in his ability to solve Argentina’s structural problems, with blame attached to the opposing side, and this is being repeated this year with the announcement by both sides of short-term, fiscally unsustainable policies.

An Alberto Fernandez victory will not only see a transition of power back to a brand of Peronism that will have to balance a broad church of different political attitudes and agendas; it will also see a transition of power within Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) coalition as they take on the role of the opposition for the first time.

It must be remembered that even amidst a deep economic recession, some 8 million voters still side with the Government, and Juntos por el Cambio still has a significant number of legislators in place to fight for re-election this month. Macri’s government fully understands that in order to build a strong opposition both nationally and in the important province of Buenos Aires, they will need as many votes as possible on Sunday in order to be a credible counterbalance if Alberto Fernandez veers to the more extreme wings and policies of his governing coalition.

For this, they must retain Buenos Aires City. Current Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta – seen as a potential leader of the Juntos por el Cambio coalition and presidential candidate in 2023 – will be hoping to win the election outright on the 27th and avoid a nervous second round runoff, where defeat would end the coalition’s standing as a political force.

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What place will Macri hold in opposition?

Some observers believe and expect that Macri will step aside, allowing Juntos por el Cambio to have a more “collective” or “horizontal” leadership group that will change the way in which decisions are made and will likely include the excellent Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, the Buenos Aires Governor María Eugenia Vidal as well as governors Gerardo Morales and Gustavo Valdés. It will be left to this group to ensure that an inclusive political re-think is held, but more importantly, that the coalition of the three parties remains intact. Separated, they will not pose any threat to a Peronist party that is determined to recover complete control. However, the overwhelming primary triumph of Rodolfo Suárez in the province of Mendoza has seen the standing of the Radical Civic Union – UCR party (one of the three parties that make up the coalition together with the Civic Coalition and Macri’s Republican Proposal or PRO) grow and they could demand greater power as a condition to remaining in a coalition. This power struggle has already caused tensions and fractures over the last six months.

If Macri is to step aside, it will be the end of a political dream and career that kicked off with the election as president of Boca Juniors, Argentina’s most popular football club, from 1995 to 2007 and the subsequent victory in the Mayoral election for Buenos Aires in 2007. A career that seemed so destined to continue through to 2023 after 2017’s legislative elections has been stopped short with the prevailing economic crisis. Cristina Kirchner was able to mount a political comeback, but she has yet to even lose a presidential general election with her name on the ballot, never mind one by a margin as wide as is expected this Sunday. And of a legacy, only time will tell. While significant advances in security, corruption, foreign affairs, energy and infrastructure have been made, higher levels of inflation, unsustainable debt and poverty will likely be Macri’s final remembrance. Recent figures posted by the INDEC national statistics agency show 35.4% of Argentines are now living in poverty, and tragically, more than half of the country’s children live below the poverty line.

Alberto Fernandez will have a far stronger mandate than Macri in pushing the country in his desired direction, but despite his laudable attempts to claim that Cristina Kirchner will have zero interference in cabinet appointments, it was Kirchner after all who chose Alberto Fernandez to lead her party. She and her allies will have significant influence and power – the effect of which is already clear. Only last week the Buenos Aires Provincial Memory Commission Committee – whose directors and senior management have close ties to Kirchnerism – released a report accusing certain members of the press of espionage and questioning press freedom. Alberto Fernandez’s confused stance on Venezuela further demonstrates another policy where Kirchnerism will dominate. Despite publicly expressing concern that the recent report by U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on the human rights abuses in Venezuela cannot be ignored, Kirchnerist members of his own party did just that by denying quorum at the Mercosur Parliament or Parlasur this month to debate the report.

These conflicting ideals and mixed communication on policies are a symptom of the wide political gulf that encompasses the party Alberto Fernandez leads, from centrist-moderates to the far-left Kirchnerism, energized by its militant youth group La Campora. Alberto Fernandez has continued to protest that he is no political puppet, but where power truly lies between the party lines will dictate the country’s future.

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