Argentina’s presidential elections herald a radical change

The result of Argentina’s presidential elections last week signified both a radical change for Argentina and Latin America, as the victory of centre-right Mauricio Macri looks to reverberate across countries dominated by ineffectual leftist politics for over a decade.

Macri’s win was a fragile one, as he gained a slim majority of 51.4% over Peronist Daniel Scioli to whom he lost in the earlier stages and who was largely predicted to win. This means he faces an abundance of challenges. His policies constitute a radical break from those of the Peronist party who have ruled for the past twelve years, led by Nestor Kirchner and his wife successor Cristina Fernandez. Their politics have been characterised by both an inward looking economic policy and a close alliance with other leftist politicians such as Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela. This ‘Kircherismo’ is soon to be uprooted by Macri’s party ‘Republican Proposal’ in the form of market-driven economic changes. However, the party lacks the majority in Congress necessary to accomplish legislative change and so Macri’s greatest challenge will be to win over the Peronists and, in doing so, to unify the government’s disparate coalition.

The most remarkable aspect of this election is the triumph of the right wing. Macri is the first right-wing president of Argentina since its return to democracy in 1983 after the seven year massacre of the ‘Dirty War’, during which over 30,000 people ‘disappeared’. Some of Macri’s right-wing views have been revealed, as he is both anti-abortion and opposed to the legalisation of marijuana. Despite his right-wing stance, his policies are marked by the desire for progression, with his campaign slogan the emphatic if not simplistic ‘Let’s Change’. Having established a successful career in business, his economic focus will potentially serve to alleviate the country’s profound poverty. Although Kirchner’s welfare programme has seen success, it has lacked the fundamental foreign capital necessary. Nevertheless, before embarking upon his free market policy, Macri must first restore a sense of economic stability through a focus on the 30% inflation rate, a reconfiguration of the corrupt statistics agency and a restoration of the Central Bank to its former independent status. This will restore the country’s international reputation and thus encourage foreign investment.

Latin America is currently fertile ground for reverberation of Macri’s right-wing economic focus. Since the beginning of the 21st century, almost all of the continent’s countries have operated under a staunchly leftist government, many of which are increasingly experiencing both economic failure and public unpopularity. Brazil’s status as an emerging economy is on the decline, as Goldman Sachs recently closed its BRIC fund with the country, curbing the selling of its stocks and bonds. In addition to this, Brazil’s left-wing government led by Dilma Rousseff is experiencing a period of profound unpopularity. As the continent’s largest country, and Argentina’s most important trading partner, Brazil could be the next to follow Macri’s lead, even if this doesn’t materialise until its next elections in 2018.

It seems that neither the public nor the media know what to make of Macri. Some see his economic focus as reminiscent of 1990s Argentine President Carlos Menem, a highly controversial figure whose neo-liberalism and close alliance with the US led the country into an even more desperate era of inequality and poverty. However others welcome the refreshing nature of Macri’s policy and herald it as a positive break with the stagnancy of the Kirchners. At this point in time it could go either way; hopefully such a concentration on economic growth will begin to eliminate the country’s poverty once and for all, and if successful, the reverberation of this strategy will have positive repercussions across the continent.

Image: Franco Folini

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