Juan Germano en The Guardian – 29/12/2018

Argentina election year likely to see match-up of political heavyweights


President Mauricio Macri’s austerity policies have failed to bring his promise of ‘zero inflation’ – Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is positioning herself to challenge him in October.

Argentina’s coming electoral year seems set to pitch the two diametrically opposed leaders of this country’s radically polarised politics in their first ever face-to-face battle at the polls.

On the right, Mauricio Macri, the son of a self-made construction business tycoon who climbed from head of the popular Boca Juniors football team to mayor of Buenos Aires and then president of Argentina, revered by the establishment for his austerity policies.

“I’m absolutely convinced we deserve a better Argentina, a better country,” Fernández said in a video posted on social media last weekend that many saw as the unofficial announcement of a run. “I’m sure that between all of us we can build it once again.”

In her video, the former president was addressing her Unidad Ciudadana (Civic Unity) political alliance, on whose ticket she is expected to run next year.

An expert at playing the political arena, “Cristina” (who gets first-name treatment even in some media headlines here), is unlikely to confirm her candidacy until before the open primaries in August, but the odds are that she will seek to dethrone Macri.

“I don’t see any reason why Cristina should not put herself forward,” says Juan Germano, director of the Isonomía polling agency. “She’s the best at stealing centre-stage so I wouldn’t expect any straight answer from her until the last possible moment, but there’s nobody in the opposition spectrum who has a better shot at the presidency.”

According to Isonomía, Macri controls a core of supporters that hovers at 34% of the electorate, while Cristina’s hardcore dips slightly below 30%. “But Macri has fallen from a favourable image of about 65% a year ago to around 42% today,” says Germano.

Macri’s electoral strategists are betting that, the country having averted an economic crash despite annual inflation running above 40%, the polarization between Macri and Cristina supporters will widen in Macri’s favour as the elections approach.

“Unfulfilled promises won’t affect next year’s elections,” predicts political analyst Marcos Novaro. “The peso did plummet and inflation did get out of control during 2018 but I suspect voters won’t blame Macri for that because many feel Cristina would have made an even worse job of the economy.”

The slide of the peso, driven by a drought that has affected agricultural exports, has cut wages and pushed up inflation. “The situation is getting worse even if there have been no massive layoffs but it is not a catastrophe,” Agustín Salvia of the university said.

Argentinians have been through worse. Many still recall hyperinflation of 12,000% in 1989 and the economic crash of 2001-2002, when the country defaulted on its foreign debt, banks closed for months and the peso was devalued 400% overnight. Analysts say that, having hit rock bottom when Argentina had to go to the IMF for a $57bn bailout earlier this year, Macri has nowhere to go but up now.

In a country where it is not uncommon for family members to have cut off communication over the fiery divide between Macristas and Cristinistas, further polarisation is expected.

“History will place Macri among the infamous who are against the people,” the priest Juan Grabois, a strong Fernández supporter with links to Pope Francis, tweeted last week. “And it will place us among idiots if we don’t band together to make 2019 the tomb of neoliberalism.”

“A large part of Macri’s identity is defined by the fear of his supporters that Cristina could ever return to office,” says Germano. “Macri feels comfortable in his role as the safe alternative to Cristina.”

The challenge for Fernández, analysts say, will be to moderate her strident tone to win voters outside her core support. “The opposition stance that Macri is an insensitive liberal millionaire will not pay off in electoral terms if Cristina pursues that angle,” says political analyst Marcos Novaro.

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