December 14, 2017

Another View

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Just the way you are

By Nicolás Tereschuk
Guest columnist

“Don’t go changing, to try and please me / You never let me down before / Don’t imagine you’re too familiar / And I don’t see you anymore / I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble / We never could have come this far / I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times / I’ll take you just the way you are.”

We can all sing along to Billy Joel’s 70s hit, but do the lyrics have anything to do with politics? How much do politicians change their positions when an election is coming? What is the real impact of the shifts and turns that political parties show during campaigns? Let’s take a look at what’s happening in Argentina and broaden the scope in order to compare these situations with what’s going on in the region.

The main opposition leader, Mauricio Macri, caused political shockwaves the night of PRO’s victory in Buenos Aires City when he produced a “statist turn” and shifted his political positions regarding key issues closer to the ruling Victory Front (FpV). Macri assured that Aerolíneas Argentinas would remain a state company — and YPF, too, would also remain under state control — if he won the presidency. Also, the ANSES pension funds wouldn’t be privatized. Later, he assured voters that no social welfare programmes would suffer cuts if he wins the presidency, and that the Fútbol Para Todos (free TV broadcasting of soccer events) will stay in place.

To be fair, Macri’s “turn” has gone through many stages over the last few years. The Buenos Aires City mayor is actually more pragmatic than he seems, and usually changes his public political positions by closely monitoring Cristina Kirchner’s approval ratings. That is why in 2011 he decided not to run for president as he had announced in 2010 and during the national political campaign, after winning reelection of his City job, he even said he would not rule out voting for Cristina. The President had then rocket-high approval ratings that contributed to a landslide victory.

Most archive footage showing Macri saying he would do things opposite of what the Kirchnerite government was doing are, not suprisingly, from 2009 and 2013, when the Frente para la Victoria lost legislative elections in the key Buenos Aires province.

When Cristina’s ratings started to improve again in March 2015, Macri’s views started to flip again. The (new) turn ended in a quite grotesque but unsurprising way two weeks ago. Since then, PRO’s national campaign entered a phase no political consultant or candidate would want: one in which the party had to start spending almost all of its time explaining what it is trying to say, and why it did or did not change, more than attacking the rival or putting out its message.

This is why Daniel Scioli has yet to be drawn out from his “comfort zone” during the campaign.

Now let’s look at South America to see if we can find out more about what’s going on in Argentina.

A friend of mine, political scientist Mariano Fraschini, speaks about “Caprilization” in order to explain what sometimes has been happening to opposition leaders in the region these last few years. Henrique Capriles, the Venezuelan opposition leader got closer than ever to beating Hugo Chávez when he guaranteed he would not change some of the government’s policies if he was elected.

With “centre-left” governments finding success in the ballot box, the centre-right opposition leaders try to get closer to a “centre” that has moved “to the left” in the last decade of more state and less Market in public policies. Brazilian Marina Silva and Uruguayan Luis Lacalle Pou — as well as Sergio Massa in 2013 — talked about “keeping the good and changing the bad” policies. They did it with mixed results but it has to be noted that this “centrist path” is being used by opposition leaders beyond Argentina.

Those changes can be quite successful but can also cause tensions among the opposition coalitions. Some of the hardliners may feel disappointed with the “soft touch” their leaders are taking and may ask for a full-opposition of everything the ruling party has done, a full-reversal of the “statist” policies.

What is the real impact of these changes and turns to voters’ selections is still unclear. Most voters do not pay attention to the day to day statements of the candidates and instead decide based on the needs of their daily life and what they expect of the future.

The huge national poll represented by the PASO is just a few days away, and it is then that we will be able to determine if these issues have been important — or not terribly — to the voters.

Guest columnist *
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