December 13, 2017
Friday, June 16, 2017

What if the midterms aren’t so important?

People take a selfie at the end of a government-organised event in San Miguel earlier this month.
People take a selfie at the end of a government-organised event in San Miguel earlier this month.
People take a selfie at the end of a government-organised event in San Miguel earlier this month.
By Marcelo J. García
For The Herald

The coming election is dominating the headlines, but perhaps it isn’t that crucial at all


The midterm electoral year has a reached a turning-point. Starting this week and concluding next week, the political establishment will present its offerings. After that, the momentum will move to the public, who will first vote in the primaries in August and then later, in the general election in October to renew a third of the Senate and half of the House of Congress.

The result is uncertain. President Mauricio Macri needs a victory in order to project the idea that he is not here for just a while. But the result will be subject to interpretation: the ruling Let’s Change (Cambiemos) alliance will almost certainly gain congressional clout after the election, given that this vote compares with the one four years ago, in 2013, when the president’s party had not yet reached national status. But the political/symbolic outcome of the election will depend on the unpredictable result in the province of Buenos Aires, the country’s largest district, where the political big fish are placing their highest stakes.

The political and media establishment’s frenzy over this week’s deadline for the registration of alliances and the naming of the candidates next week is the ultimate exercise of navel-gazing and over-dramatisation. Politicians are jockeying for their own places in the immediate future, but what if nothing structural is actually at stake in the coming electoral season?

If Macri musters a victory, he will be able to tell the global business establishment he has been trying to seduce from day one in office that they can now come, finally, and sink their money here without remorse. Whether they will or not, in the context of an economy that continues to move in slow motion, is a different story. A victory, however, does not guarantee a re-election for Macri in 2019.

But by the same token, a Macri defeat might not be the end of the world for the ruling coalition. Most government sources agree that the administration will move on with an austerity agenda, with full force, after the election, mostly because it will not be a popular one. A defeat would put the government on the defensive, but it will also make it feel that it has to change the course — for instance, the course of “gradual” economic reform it has been leading. Many in the government believe that a more radical reform agenda would get the economy back on track and give Macri more chances of running Argentina for eight rather than four years.

Politicians other than the president might see the election in more dramatic terms. Starting with former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whose decision over whether to run or not will be crucial for her future — and so will be the outcome of the vote if she does decide to compete. The odds are she will seek a seat, firstly because she needs to consolidate whatever is left of her once almighty Peronist party leadership but also because Congressional immunity, to shield her from court action, might come in handy. The stakes are high for the former president, and a defeat might amount to the end of her political career.

Although in his mid-40s, Sergio Massa is also staking a lot of his political libido — and future — on this vote. Massa pulled off an upset win in the province of Buenos Aires four years ago after splitting from the Peronist party and creating his own Renewal Front party. But from scoring over 40 percent of the votes in 2013, he slumped to third in the 2015 presidential election with half that percentage of the ballots. Massa desperately needs to show that he has momentum this year — or at least halt the downward trend — if he is to have a second shot at the presidency in 2019. If he fails, he will have to return to the Peronist party and lower the levels of his political ambitions.

Fake news

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner slammed the media well before Donald Trump, when the current US President was still serving the mainstream media himself by hosting a reality show. Now the former Argentine president has used, for the first time, that trademarked label from Trump, “fake news,” to refer to the latest corruption allegations against her.

In a speech to the European Parliament last month, Kirchner said that the public is not capable of understanding the news these days.

“Our societies do not have the tools to read and interpret the things they are told,” she said. So she has taken up the mission of singling out the “fake news” that’s around — especially the ones that talk about her.

The former president’s obsession with the media and the news has, in the past, played against her political judgment. There is no politics without a narrative, but too much narrative can kill politics. That obsession does not seem to have changed.

During her last campaign in 2011, when she bagged 54 percent of the presidential votes, Fernández de Kirchner barely spoke, as she was riding on an economy growing at double-digit rates and a massive wave of public empathy following the October 2010 death of her husband, former president Néstor Kirchner. After that, she mostly preached to her own choir, as she is now.

It is not clear they are capable of reading between the lines either.


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