Opposition tries role-reversal against Macri’s campaign

1st August 2019

By Amadeo Gandolfo

Opposition tries role-reversal against Macri’s campaign

After weeks in which the ruling coalition’s campaign focused on sparking fears of a return to populism and left-wing policies, the opposition has tried to flip the script on President Mauricio Macri, comparing Argentina’s current economic struggles with those of Venezuela, arguing that he is being financially irresponsible and promising order and stability.

</p> <p>But the role-reversal attempt doesn’t look like it will be easy. Despite providing a useful counter-punch by focusing on Macri’s economic struggles, it has also triggered accusations of hypocrisy.</p> <h2><strong>Who&#8217;s the Soviet?</strong></h2> <p>One month ago, Macri’s running mate Miguel Ángel Pichetto stirred up the campaign shortly after his VP nomination, <a href="https://www.infobae.com/politica/2019/06/14/campana-caliente-pichetto-califico-de-comunista-a-kicillof-y-el-kirchnerismo-le-respondio-acusandolo-de-ladron/">saying</a>: “Peronism, in the Province of Buenos Aires, has a candidate from the Communist Party. I’m talking about Axel Kicillof. This is a great distortion. Peronists have to reflect upon this.”</p> <p>In Kicillof’s initial response, the former Cristina Kirchner economy minister <a href="http://www.infonews.com/nota/324450/kicillof-salio-al-cruce-de-la-campana">said</a> that he was “A Peronist, who’s interested in production and labor” and that economically he was a “Keynesian.”</p> <p>This type of clash is not unprecedented. Pichetto, who comes from the Peronist <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/06/20/miguel-angel-pichetto-macri-right-wing-bolsonaro">right wing</a>, could be seen as echoing the words of Juan Perón himself in the 1970’s, when he accused the filo-Marxist Peronist youth of being “infiltrators” within the movement. Since then, it became a common discrediting practice within the party.</p> <p>But last week, during one of the book presentations that double as campaign acts, Cristina Kirchner turned to the offensive, <a href="https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/cristina-kirchner-nos-acusaron-sovieticos-pero-este-nid2269437">arguing</a> that “the time during which companies made the most money was during the so-called populist governments, when there’s consumption, when there’s capitalism,” and adding that it was actually Mauricio Macri’s administration that could be best compared to soviet shortages and rationing. “They are the true anti-capitalists, because people cannot buy what they want,” the former president said.</p> <p>In conversation with <em>The Essential</em>, University of Buenos Aires professor Ana Slimovich, a specialist in discourse analysis, said: “What’s paradoxical, considering the accusations of communism, is that both the government and the opposition are trying to do it from a similar position, addressing a citizenship that is also capitalist and calling for a re-establishing of order in the country.”  In the end, Slimovich believes, “the side that ends up having to over-explain its position is likely to be at a disadvantage.”</p> <h2><strong>“A Normal Country”</strong></h2> <p>Cristina Kirchner’s words are part of a wider shift in the opposition strategy during Macri’s term: an attempt to re-claim concepts like “normality” and “order” for their side, while linking Macri to chaos and unpredictability.</p> <p>After a divisive last term in office, the former president began looking back into the earlier years of Kirchnerism, when her late husband Néstor promised “a normal country” in his 2003 inauguration speech. Fernández de Kirchner argued that her legacy to Argentines was such <a href="https://www.cronista.com/elecciones2015/Cristina-Cumplimos-la-promesa-dejamos-un-pais-normal-20151025-0014.html">normal country</a>, while it was Macri’s policies that “<a href="https://www.pagina12.com.ar/45308-nos-han-desorganizado-la-vida">disorganized Argentine’s lives</a>” through job and salary insecurity.</p> <p>The nomination of Alberto Fernández, a centrist closer to Néstor Kirchner’s first administration and a critic of the conflict-laden last years of Kirchnerism, was maybe the clearest step in this direction, trying to re-build a wider coalition.</p> <p>The <a href="https://twitter.com/alferdez/status/1148381790022881281">TV spots</a> issued by Fernández also hammer heavily on the idea of securing an orderly life for workers, retirees and the poor. One of them mentions that “having a job should be normal” but also that normality includes “being able to treat yourself” too, in contrast with the austerity undergone during the Macri years.</p> <p>What’s clear is that, while both sides talk about order, the words don’t mean exactly the same for each side.</p> <p>Macri’s administration took office promising a normalization of a disheveled Argentine state, with finances in the red and widely questioned public statistics, a necessary step before inserting the country into the world economy and attracting investors.</p> <p>For <em>Cambiemos</em>, order means a world-integrated Argentina, with free-flow of capital and an institutional and legal framework that guarantees a stable horizon for investment. This is coupled with a cry for republican values such as freedom of speech, and an Executive branch that avoids overreaching.</p> <p>The opposition has repeatedly raised questions on the truth of these claims, pointing to <a href="https://www.tiempoar.com.ar/nota/ramos-padilla-en-el-centro-de-la-estrategia-electoral-de-macri">sly influence-peddling</a> over the Judiciary or repeated arrests of youngsters posting ‘menacing’ <a href="https://www.politicargentina.com/notas/201710/23322-un-joven-termino-preso-por-amenazar-a-macri-en-twitter.html">soccer chants</a> against the President. But it has fundamentally argued that security and basic freedoms are mostly offered to the upper echelons of society, while the lives of the common man are affected by economic reforms and state over-reach.</p> <h2><strong>The Venezuelan Conundrum</strong></h2> <p>The call for republicanism is intrinsically tied to one of the main accusations dispatched by the ruling coalition, which Kirchnerism has also been trying to spin back at Macri: the specter of Venezuela.</p> <p>The dire humanitarian, economic and political situation in the Caribbean country has loomed heavy against Cristina Kirchner. Ever since <em>Cambiemos</em> took office, her populist policies have been under the spotlight, accused of having brought Argentina near the brink of what Venezuela is undergoing.</p> <p>The Venezuelan indictment is both economic, concerning inflation, public finances, shortages, and the crash of public services in Venezuela; as well as political, with the conflation of both Kirchnerism and Boliviarianism as quasi totalitarian regimes with opposition persecution and no freedom of the press.</p> <p>Analogies with Venezuela gave Macri the political capital to defend <a href="https://www.infobae.com/2016/05/26/1814369-mauricio-macri-dijo-que-si-no-aumentaba-las-tarifas-ibamos-rumbo-ser-como-venezuela/">tariff hikes</a>, budget cuts, and to <a href="https://www.clarin.com/politica/mauricio-macri-queremos-pais-venezuela-piensa-nicolas-maduro-matan_0_BJkGkl_Pb.html">campaign in 2017</a>, saying freedom of speech and human rights were only guaranteed if the former president was defeated. This is also reflected in the current campaign, which hammers messages such as “being able to say whatever you want without fear” and “avoid going back to the past.”</p> <p>The novelty is that Fernández de Kirchner tried to turn the tables this weekend when she claimed that “regarding food, right now we are the same as Venezuela”. This time, however, the attempt might have backfired.</p> <p>The responses didn’t take time to appear. Several Venezuelan exiles living in Argentina <a href="https://www.infobae.com/politica/2019/07/28/fuerte-repudio-de-venezolanos-por-las-declaraciones-de-cristina-kirchner-que-equiparo-la-crisis-de-argentina-con-la-situacion-en-venezuela/).">replied</a> to the ex-president with the Twitter hashtag #SraCristinaLeCuentoQue (#MsCristinaLetMeTellYou), sharing stories and statistics which argued that both situations could in no way be compared.</p> <p>In the aftermath, Alberto Fernández <a href="https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/alberto-fernandez-esta-claro-condicion-venezuela-es-nid2272330">toned down</a> her statements admitting that the Venezuelan situation is much worse, but characterizing Maduro’s government as an authoritarian government, not a dictatorship.</p> <p>Considering that the Kirchnerite governments were close allies of the “Bolivarian Revolution” and its leader Hugo Chávez, the Macri-Maduro comparison looks like it will be a hard sell.</p> <p>

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Amadeo Gandolfo

Amadeo Gandolfo is an historian, journalist and researcher. He has worked at the CONICET (National Council For Scientific and Technical Research), writes at the Revista Crisis magazine and teaches at the University of Buenos Aires.