Prelude to an electoral year
There are plenty of challenges ahead for the Macri administration — none more so than the loomings votes ahead in 2017
Last week, when asked in an interview with Rosario’s La Capital newspaper about how he would evaluate his first year in office, President Mauricio Macri said he would get “a good mark.”
“I would mark myself with an eight (supposedly out of 10),” he said, without hesitation.
But despite the president’s optimism, many political analysts beg to differ, especially when thinking about the main measures taken by the Let’s Change (Cambiemos) administration and the immediate consequences they have had — and, moreover, will have on next year’s mid-term elections.
In the same interview, Macri said that it’s important for them to “win ... not because of a sportsmanslike issue but to strengthen the idea of change.”
Although the president stressed that he is not thinking every day of the polls and that he is only concerned in “solving Argentine’s problems,” the season of elections — that will start in August with the PASO primaries — will be a landmark for his future, and for his party too.
Most major political analysts agree that the solid popularity Macri enjoyed in the first months of his administration has been gradually decreasing, though the president’s approval ratings remain pretty high.
“When he took office he had a positive image of around 70 percent. This means he had over 20 points more than what he actually got in the runoff,” political consultant Ricardo Rouvier told the Herald. “People gave him some kind of credit. This usually happens when new governments — and especially this one — raise expectations. Of course, this situation has been changing dramatically throughout the year.”
Now, the honeymoon is over, Rouvier argued. “As time went on, that idyllic scenario became eroded. The favourable perception but also the future expectations dropped,” he added.
According to the latest figures, Macri’s positive image stands around 53.3 percent, while the negative is 43.8 percent. One could conclude that the president has lost those 20 points during his first year as president.
Political analyst and pollster Analía del Franco agrees with Rouvier — to a point. In her view, “the expectations of the new government had its ups and downs” over the year, but when the drastic hikes in public utilities were announced, approval ratings plummeted.
“The so-called ‘tarifazo’ was a turning point,” Del Franco told the Herald.
While consumption at supermarkets has fallen four percent so far this year, according to Kantar Worldpanel consultancy firm, the situation is not hitting all social classes equally. While the richest of the pyramid managed to generally maintain their standard of living, and even got access to more goods and services, those at the bottom of the scale have lost around eight percent of their purchasing-power. And the middle class, most of whom voted for Macri in 2015, also spent less at the supermarkets (four percent).
All of this has consequences for Macri’s popularity. Juan Germano, from the Isonomía consultancy firm told Clarín this week that: “There is patience, but the anger is there, it is true”.
All in all, 60 percent of the Argentines agree that they purchased less this year than in 2015. Some surveys say that about 50 percent of workers fear they may lose their jobs. Bad figures for a government which won the elections with the promise of a “revolution of joy.”
Many of the Let’s Change coalition’s internal problems have come to light over the past few weeks, coinciding with the first anniversary of the party ruling the country. One of the most notable developments came when the Speaker of the Lower House — and one of PRO’s most prominent political leaders — Emilio Monzó used an interview to criticise some of the electoral strategies deployed by Let’s Change’s leaders, while also targeting campaign adviser Jaime Durán Barba.
“Let’s Change was a successful electoral scheme. Now, there is a huge distance left to transform it into a solid body as a political party. Today the common denominator (for those who belong to the coalition) is the responsibility of governing. So one must not have prejudices against adding other political leaders,” Monzó told Perfil newspaper, adding that he himself is a Peronist and that it would be wise if some Peronist leaders join the coalition.
“Peronism has impressive political leaders that must be invited to power: (former Victory Front candidate for governor in the province of Santa Fe) Omar Perotti, (former Interior and Transport Minister Florencio) Randazzo, (former Speaker of the Lower House) Julián Domínguez, (the leader of the Justicialist caucus in the Lower House Diego) Bossio, (San Martín Mayor Gabriel) Katopodis or (Salta Governor) Juan Manuel Urtubey,” Monzó declared.
Such controversial statements — coming from one of Macri’s closest advisors — prompted bitter reactions from other political leaders in the president’s inner circle. Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña — another of Macri’s campaign strategists — immediately rejected Monzó’s proposal.
“Today we don’t see a reason to make a change in the government, not to make a big turn (in the direction of the government’s strategies). We are very satisfied with the government’s performance,” said Peña.
While it’s not clear yet what will be the strategy heading toward the election, last week’s debate in the National Congress regarding changes in the income tax scheme opens the door to more uncertainty. Macri, Peña and other key PRO officials criticised not only the Victory Front’s leaders, but also those from the Renewal Front, including Sergio Massa.
Massa, once a rival, remained in dialogue with the PRO during its first year in office. But it seems all ties have now been broken. In one recent interview, Peña told the Infobae news site that Massa was “the least reliable person in the Argentine political system.”
The Macri government began its days inside the Casa Rosada by amending the Broadcast Media Law by an executive decree, bringing to an end the anti-trust clauses included in the text. In those frantic days, Macri also intended to nominate two justices for the Supreme Court by another decree, an attempt that was finally blocked by the opposition (which ultimately approved the nominees).
Facing pressure from human rights groups and international bodies, the government now ends its first year in office giving explanations to the UN working group on Arbitrary Detentions, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other groups like Amnesty International, defending the detention without charge of Túpac Amaru leader Milagro Sala in Jujuy.
Sources from the Pink House told the Herald that the president, Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and Chief Cabinet Marcos Peña have all made it clear to Jujuy’s governor Gerardo Morales — a UCR ally in Let’s Change — that the situation surrounding Sala is becoming increasingly difficult for the national government. Those comments, however, have been delivered in private, because Macri and his officials openly stand by Morales, a key leader from the north who was decisive for Let’s Change’s win in 2015. He may also be key next year.
Political analysts agree that the first three months of 2017 will be key for the government, if it is to approach the PASO primaries confidently, with high levels of approval ratings for the Let’s Change coalition.
“It’s important that the government shows its own effective measures, something that will rise expectations. This year the so-called ‘heavy inheritance’ from the former government was to blame — but now they have to show other tools,” Del Franco stressed.
For Rouvier, according to the studies he led, “the most urgent issues have to do with employment and wages.”
“In my opinion the first three months of 2017 will show the path. Generally March is when we start to see what happens. What we see now is that some sectors feel disapointed, it’s what some call ‘the end of the honeymoon,’” he added.
Del Franco also said that there have been some disappointing measures for the middle class, which once felt hopeful towards the Let’s Change administration.
“Some sectors of the middle class are the first to be disappointed with this government and — in a way — the groups who backed the government changed,” stressed Del Franco, saying that some of Macri’s voters “feel neglected.”
“When asked about the issues that worry them the most, first always comes insecurity, followed by inflation. These days the third problem that appears in the ranking is the fear of losing their jobs or the instability in that field,” Del Franco concluded.For his part, Germano pointed out that while expectations of a better future are still strong, “this doesn’t last forever.”