April 24, 2014


Sunday, December 29, 2013

W31 TO W43 - A stinging primary defeat predefines the midterms and turns CFK into a lame duck

Three sad tigers, as they say in Spanish, except they’re not from Tigre — BA province top candidate Martìn Insaurralde, CFK and Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli put a brave face on the Victory Front’s defeat at the hands of Sergio Massa in the PASO primaries.
By Michael Soltys / Senior Editor / Economic Outlook

W31 — Hitting the key crime and inflation issues much harder and more effectively, the moderate Massa carries his lead into the last lap — a ruling party win in Buenos Aires province would be an upset at this stage and Massa could theoretically lose in August and win in October with his easier access to protest votes. Not much voter interest in the primaries, which are only worthy of the name with UNEN in this city and with the odd other party in the occasional district — otherwise a rubberstamping of single lists. CFK announces a 14.4 percent pension hike to start the month after the primaries, which many criticize as a breach of electoral curfew.

W32 — Everything (including not only the campaign climax but also CFK chairing the UN Security Council in New York, a bizarre break-in into Massa’s Tigre home and the “8A” saucepan-bashing) is overshadowed by the 21-death Rosario gas blast, which effectively brought the campaign to a shuddering halt although most final rallies seem to have taken place anyway. Kirchnerites cannot agree as to whether Massa is covering up the break-in to hide his own deficient security or playing it up as a publicity stunt to highlight the crime issue — either way the incident does not seem to have influenced the result. Overtaken by modern technology, the electoral curfew fails to prevent lively speculation over the PASO primary results, especially in Buenos Aires province — against Massa’s opinion poll lead are pitted the advantages an outdated ballot system (with scrutineers for every polling-booth crucial) gives to party machines, thereby leading to a tie as one educated guess. But the Rosario blast just when CFK was grandstanding in New York suggests that her luck has finally run out.

W33 — Not only do the PASO primaries leave CFK a lame duck but they threaten her with a hung Congress (especially the Senate) after a dismal 26 percent for her Victory Front (30.9 percent even with allies) — Buenos Aires province may be the “unkindest cut” but the government loses in all major districts. The big winner is Massa (crime and punishment — he made crime the issue and inflicted punishment). Topping Insaurralde 35 to 29.6 percent across the province, Massa beats him in Greater Buenos Aires Kirchnerite strongholds such as Avellaneda, Lanús, Martín Sabbattella’s Morón and impoverished José C. Paz — clearly Massa has found the right balance between being centrist and critical. But there are also Kirchnerite defeats in inland provinces regarded as virtual fiefdoms such as Jujuy, La Rioja, San Juan and even the Santa Cruz homeland — all to the Radicals, who have their best election in 14 years. Scant consolation from opposition setbacks — a mediocre election for De la Sota in Córdoba while Macri’s PRO is pipped by UNEN, rewarded for taking the primaries seriously (Ca-rrió rises again from her 2011 ashes). Conversely, convincing Victory Front wins in Entre Ríos and Chaco immediately make their governors Sergio Urribarri and Jorge Capitanich 2015 presidential dark horses — perhaps the big question now is whether they (or indeed Massa) would brave a pan-Peronist primary? Claiming victory as heading the largest single party on the night, CFK later says that she only wants to talk to the “real players”(i.e. corporate interests), not their “proxies” among opposition politicians.

W34 — It now seems a long time even until the real midterm elections in October, never mind 2015 — the question is less whether the defeat is reversible as if the opposition can improve on their post-2009 performance. The Council of the Americas finds Scioli (also a lame duck) talking about the “best possible end” for a soft landing. That event sees both Scioli and Massa (looking more centre-right with pro-investment, market-friendly talk) playing for the same ground. CFK quickly holds her summit of “real players” in Santa Cruz and asks them for alternative revenues if she is to raise the income tax floor. Devaluation pressures mount. Penitentiary service chief Víctor Hortel resigns after 13 jailbirds abscond.

W35 — With Massa lying low and widening his lead, CFK gives ground on the income tax issue, raising the floor to 15,000 pesos gross (only 10 percent now pay income tax) but it does not seem to regain the initiative since the move is widely perceived as yielding to a Massa demand — why not appease the tax-payer before the crucial PASO vote, many wonder? A 10 percent dividend tax and a 15 percent levy on unlisted stocks are proposed to replace some of the lost revenues. The opposition wants the floor index-linked. Describing herself as a “serial payer,” a hyperactive CFK also proposes to re-open the debt bond swap to shift jurisdiction from New York to Buenos Aires, offering the hedge fund holdouts the same terms as other creditors. Meanwhile in a change of style Kirchnerite candidates start appearing on opposition media programmes while the Supreme Court holds its hearings on the 2009 Broadcasting Law. The Neuquén legislature approves the YPF-Chevron deal amid violent protests.

W36 — Working hard to improve its support, the Victory Front tries to ride the tiger of crime anxieties with Scioli installing the histrionically tough Ezeiza Mayor Alejandro Granados as provincial security minister in place of one of his favourites Ricardo Casal (another gain for mayoral power), Insaurralde proposes lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 14 and Berni pumps more Border Guards into Greater Buenos Aires. Kirchnerism also seeks to make the most of Macri’s phrase of a “red circle” behind Massa (which CFK says is against her) — instability is in the air. CFK herself spends much of the week in an unproductive presence at the G20 summit in Russia where she meets Vladimir Putin and opposes the use of force against Syria. The International Olympic Committee meeting here awards the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo.

W37 — Insaurralde’s lowered criminal age runs into “friendly fire” from various Kirchnerites although hailed by Abal Medina. Despite the new crime focus, Massa’s lead stays in double digits (although CFK’s approval ratings remain at 40 percent) and October 27 seems pre-scripted by August 11. But a major drug scandal in Córdoba involving top police brass also places dissident Peronist Governor De la Sota on the wrong side of crime. On a different electioneering front, income tax breaks are announced for some two million self-employed. The 2014 budget is submitted to Congress, postulating six percent growth, 10 percent inflation, an exchange rate of 6.33 pesos per dollar and 10 billion dollars of reserves earmarked for debt. Massa proposes a “competitive devaluation.”

W38 — The Corrientes gubernatorial elections fail to produce a late game-changing upset as incumbent Radical Governor Ricardo Colombi beats the outgoing Kirchnerite Corrientes city Mayor Carlos Mauricio “Camau” Espinola 51-46 percent. Crime increasingly dominates the national campaign. Scioli and Urribarri are already sizing each other up as 2015 presidential rivals. CFK is interviewed by tame journalist Hernán Brienza., Father Grassi’s 15-year sentence for child abuse is upheld and he is detained. Moreno goes to trial for fining independent inflation estimates. A wave of suburban line rail strikes.

W39 — The 2014 budget clears the Lower House unscathed by a 134-113 vote despite all the doubts about a fudged budget — the accompanying economic emergency legislation is extended. A violent attack on a Massa motorcade in La Matanza probably helps the Tigre mayor even if condemned by Kirchnerites (although Insaurralde accuses his rival of playing the victim) — in the background Massa is gaining and holding most De Narváez votes. CFK attends the UN General Assembly in New York where she demands answers on the AMIA “truth commission” MOU from an Iran turning a new leaf and talking to the United States for the first time since 1979.

W40 — Pulp friction with Uruguay is revived for the first time since 2006 when Montevideo allows the UPM mill to up its output from one million to 1.2 million tons, causing a posturing Timerman to threaten going back to the World Court in The Hague over this “unilateral decision” — Entre Ríos across the river from the pulp mill is also a key electoral battleground.
W41 — A presidential health scare quickly leading to surgery on a head clot (at exactly the same age as her late husband Néstor when felled by a heart attack) suddenly alters the campaign without ultimately proving to be a mood-swinger — opinions are divided over whether a sympathy vote for the elections that month would result or whether CFK would now be seen as a really lame duck. Meanwhile the chronic Peronist problem of succession is revived while a hyperpresidential style of government abruptly ends with CFK fully out of action for at least a month (doctor’s orders). Health bulletins dominate the week. The immediate question is: Who now runs the country? Vice-President Amadou Boudou is the formal caretaker but he is constantly surrounded by Kirchnerite aides and Abal Medina says that the transitional leadership is a team effort, then correcting himself to say that CFK is really still in charge. Nevertheless, this temporary government nominally headed by Boudou makes a striking new concession to the outside world, agreeing to honour five adverse international arbitration (CIADI) decisions to unblock World Bank aid to the tune of three billion dollars. Meanwhile the campaign continues and nor is CFK its only victim — San Juan Governor José Luis Gioja almost dies in a helicopter crash and Santa Fe Governor Antonio Bonfatti’s home is fired at, apparently by provincial policemen in league with drug gangs. The pulp mill dispute also flares on with Timerman issuing an “ultimatum.” The Senate approves the 2014 budget.

W42 — CFK mends fast from her operation but there are also heart issues — the original reason for the medical examination which revealed the blood clot. Her approval ratings rise to 44 percent but once again events force the government into damage limitation — there is another Once train crash with 105 injured (CFK is not informed in order to protect her from stress) and Victory Front’s top Lower House candidate Juan Cabandié is shown on a video bullying a traffic warden when caught without full driving papers (the video dates from May but only surfaces now, curiously enough). Peronist Loyalty Day finds the movement holding four different major rallies.

W43 — Little suspense in the last week of the campaign after the clearcut PASO results. Most candidates seem to be thinking of 2015 more than 2013 but CFK needs control of Congress now and is out for 2015 while she is more interested in the nationwide balance of seats than the outcome in Buenos Aires province (with just 35 of the 127 seats at stake). Following the previous week’s train crash Randazzo nationalizes the Sarmiento railway line (pointedly without consulting Boudou). The “blue” dollar returns to double digits.

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