by Federico Poore
The Essential, 24-10-2019
Many thought he wouldn’t even make it, but Argentina has reached election week and President Mauricio Macri is still standing. Even more, over the weekend he enjoyed the best 48 hours of his administration since his coalition’s crushing political defeat in the August primaries.
Does than mean that he stands any chance of being re-elected? Not at all, say the pollsters. In fact he may even lose to Peronist favorite Alberto Fernández by a wider margin than the one seen on the August 11 primaries.
But there are ways and ways of losing. And right now, that’s the key to the whole thing.
The impossible comeback
Last Saturday, Macri called for a near-impossible comeback as he headed the #SíSePuede march in downtown Buenos Aires. According to La Nación, 320.000 people attended the rally in 9 de Julio Avenue.
“We are going to turn the election around,” the president promised supporters from the stage, where he was flanked by his running-mate Miguel Ángel Pichetto. A day after, he was widely seen as the winner of the second and last round of televised debates between all presidential candidates.
“Macri got the upper hand in the debate, and finishes his campaign in an astounding ‘in crescendo’, which is especially noteworthy for a trailing candidate,” sociologist Marcos Novaro wrote in an analysis for Todo Noticias. “However, this effort will hardly have an impact on the consolidated polling numbers.”
The latest surveys predict a major win by Fernández. According to the Federico González y Asociados consultancy firm, 54 percent of voters said they would cast their ballot to support the Frente de Todos leader compared to just 31.5 percent for Macri. A separate nationwide poll published on October 17 by Ricardo Rouvier & Asociados has Fernández winning in the first round with 52.3 percent of the votes against 34.3 percent for the incumbent. (According to the local rules, if a candidate gets more than 45 percent of the valid votes, or more than 40 percent with a 10-point margin from the runner-up, the election is over and there is no need for a runoff in November.)
Speaking to the base
“The main novelty of the campaign is that Macri has tried hard to turn around the results of the PASO primaries and has adopted a more traditional campaigning style, with rallies and a direct relationship with voters,” Ricardo Rouvier told The Essential. “I don’t think neither this nor the televised debate will change dramatically the results of the election, but it confirms his attempts of pandering to his hardcore voter base.”
The president is taking no prisoners in his last-ditch attempt to exacerbate polarization. During the last televised debate he drew a clear line between “us” and “them” (them being the Kirchnerite favorites) and engaged in a savage exchange with Fernández, whom he accused of covering up serious corruption charges during the administrations of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Kirchner (2007-2015).
This reinforced anti-Peronist, tough-on-crime and even religious discourse puts the president closer to a right-wing populist like Jair Bolsonaro than to the technocrat who won the Argentine elections four years ago. But it is destined to strengthen his voter base and to avoid losing more votes than the ones he got in the PASO.
“Macri won, the ruling coalition lost,” was the title of a post-debate column by journalist Noelia Barral Grigera, who argued that Macri’s all-or-nothing strategy is at odds with the interests of key Macri allies such as Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, former ambassador to the US Martín Lousteau and key congressional allies Emilio Monzó and Silvia Lospennato, as well as Radical (UCR) party governors Alfredo Cornejo (Mendoza) and Gerardo Morales (Jujuy).
These leaders are part of a pro-dialogue sector that pushes for moderation in the upcoming political cycle which has direct communication channels with some of Fernández key allies like Sergio Massa, Eduardo “Wado” de Pedro and Máximo Kirchner, the son of Cristina Kirchner. “But the second and last presidential debate made it clear that Macri disavows them as valid interlocutors,” Barral Grigera explained.
Interestingly enough, the shift in the president’s discourse may hurt the future chances of “moderate” allies but it’s helping them now to retain some key congressional seats and thus to become a stronger opposition after December 10.
Macri’s conservative shift seeks to capture the 5,1 percent of votes that consultant José Luis Espert (who stands for economic liberalism and political conservatism) and rightist nationalist Juan José Gómez Centurión obtained in the PASO, said Juan Pablo Schinello, a political consultant at Clivaje. “It’s not the same leaving office with 30 percent of the votes than with 35 percent. If you obtain the latter, you have a pretty good election night and you carve a space in Congress with the idea of becoming a strong opposition,” he added.
On Wednesday, Gómez Centurión’s gubernatorial candidate in Buenos Aires province called on to vote for Macri.
The receptacle of demands
Meanwhile, Alberto Fernández, the clear favorite, has become the receptacle and guarantor of all demands even before taking office. Blame the landslide difference he obtained in the PASO or the feeling that Macri, increasingly accepted as a lame duck, will have no real power until the end of his mandate. The fact is that the country’s most prominent businessmen are lining up to meet him and leaders of social movements are publishing their list of urgent needs for the very first day he sits down in his office on the first floor of the Casa Rosada.
“It’s inevitable that something like this would happen,” political analyst María Esperanza Casullo told The Essential. “But it shouldn’t be a problem because the people very well know that he’s not the one ruling the country right now.”
The real problem, Casullo said, will begin to escalate after December, “especially if we take into consideration the situation in the region.”
Latin America is witnessing a season of discontent, with turmoil in the streets of Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador that adds up to the never-ending drama of Venezuela.
Fernández will have a hard time coping with Jair Bolsonaro. In August, there were some heated exchanges between the two leaders regarding the irregular jailing of former Brazilian president Lula Da Silva — and if elected president, the Peronist leader will have to cope with Bolsonaro, whom he called a “racist” not so long ago.
Venezuela will undoubtedly be a divisive issue among members of the Frente de Todos coalition. “La Cámpora supports the government of Nicolás Maduro”, said Andrés “Cuervo” Larroque, a representative of the youth group headed by Máximo Kirchner, back in January. “The Venezuelan government has dictatorship-like attitudes: it has arrested opposition leaders and killed students,” said Sergio Massa last month. The two discourses cannot be reconciled and questions surrounding this issue will linger on long after the election.