Macri opens talks with Fernández amid political crisis

15th August 2019

By Natalio Cosoy

Macri opens talks with Fernández amid political crisis

After Sunday’s primary election, in which opposition candidate Alberto Fernández comfortably beat President Mauricio Macri, markets went into a meltdown, and the government was thrown into a political crisis over the long months ahead until the presidential transition.

Three days later, on Wednesday, Macri and Fernández finally spoke.

“We just had a good and long phone conversation with Alberto Fernández,” tweeted president Mauricio Macri in a bid to calm down the waters. “He committed his help so that this electoral process, and the political uncertainty it generates, affects the Argentines’ economy as little as possible.”

</p> <p dir="ltr">&#8220;He showed a willingness to try to bring calm to the markets regarding the risks of an eventual alternation of power and we agreed to keep a line open between us,&#8221; Macri added.</p> <p dir="ltr">Later, in a press conference, Alberto Fernández also said they had a good chat: &#8220;I said I was willing to help, taking into account I am just a presidential candidate, not a president-elect.&#8221; But he made one thing clear: &#8220;I do not agree on many points with the president.&#8221; Maybe one point: &#8220;We all want the economy to stabilize.&#8221;</p> <h2 dir="ltr">Monday&#8217;s doomed press conference</h2> <p dir="ltr">It took a few days of chaos to get to that 15-minute (according to Fernández) conversation.</p> <p><iframe title="Conferencia completa de Macri y Pichetto tras la derrota en las PASO" width="1778" height="1000" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/tRMshzrioMw?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, Macri went full-candidate instead of full-president: he gave a press conference together with his running mate, Miguel Ángel Pichetto (who holds no formal position in government), in which he said it was the fear of the opposition that made the markets panic and that it was their responsibility to portray a different image to what Kirchnerism was when it was in power.</p> <p dir="ltr">&#8220;This is just a sample of what would happen (if the Fernández-Fenández ticket wins in October),&#8221; Macri warned. The president insisted his party would fight to win the general elections on October 27, which &#8220;will be a good opportunity to show that the change is still going on.&#8221;</p> <p dir="ltr">But the figures –a 15 percentage point difference in favor of Fernández– show it is highly improbable, if not plainly impossible.</p> <h2 dir="ltr">Friends into foes</h2> <p dir="ltr">Except within his close political entourage, the reaction to his words was mainly negative.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even journalists that had been extremely supportive of Macri throughout his government suddenly turned harsh critics. Journalist Luis Majul, for example, said on TV that he had to make an exercise in self-criticism for not realizing that the economic conditions were so bad and had hit the population so hard.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday, Carlos Pagni, another journalist whose columns are religiously read by the establishment, said on his Odisea Argentina program on LN+ that it does not matter if Macri&#8217;s economic policies are right or wrong, but that the key is that he has lost legitimacy. &#8220;In a democratic system,&#8221; he said, &#8220;governments need legitimacy to carry on their policies.&#8221;</p> <p dir="ltr">&#8220;The government was holding up, to this point, almost entirely on smoke and mirrors, &#8216;atado con alambre&#8217; as we say in Argentina: support from the IMF, from the business sectors, from prominent figures of the media, that support was predicated on the idea that they would win, or could win,&#8221; political scientist María Esperanza Casullo told <em>The Essential</em> after the election results were known.</p> <p dir="ltr">&#8220;Macri needs to focus on governing the crisis, to get into the daily grind of governing,&#8221; she added. &#8220;So far this government has been curiously unencumbered with the day to day operation of the state.&#8221;</p> <h2 dir="ltr">Wednesday apologies</h2> <p dir="ltr">On Wednesday, before speaking to Fernández, Macri delivered a recorded televised message to try and fix Monday&#8217;s damage.</p> <p><iframe title="Conferencia de Macri donde anunció 10 nuevas medidas económicas" width="1778" height="1000" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/SuFi2DcM0qk?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p dir="ltr">&#8220;I want to say sorry for what I said on Monday&#8217;s press conference,&#8221; he said, &#8220;I doubted if I had to do it, because I was still very much affected by Sunday&#8217;s results, without good sleep and sad for the consequences on the economy.&#8221;</p> <p dir="ltr">Unlike what he said on Monday, when he seemingly accused the voters of making the wrong choice, he said he understood the results. &#8220;I profoundly respect the Argentines who voted for other alternatives,&#8221; he said. And added: &#8220;Me and my government bear the sole responsibility for this happening.&#8221;</p> <p dir="ltr">He also recognized that the economic situation hit most of the population hard, as they saw their income lose purchasing power at a dramatic speed. After that, he announced a number of palliative measures to try and put money in peoples&#8217; pockets –from tax relieves to bonuses for public servants and a freeze in the price of petrol.</p> <p dir="ltr">Macri also said he thought dialogue was the only way forward and that he was open to talk to all the candidates, but did not explicitly mention Alberto Fernández, which is in essence the only one he really needs to negotiate with.</p> <p dir="ltr">The announcements did not appease the markets, and it is unclear if they will change the citizens&#8217; mood.</p> <h2 dir="ltr">Positive development</h2> <p dir="ltr">Analysts agree that Macri&#8217;s words can be read as a positive development. &#8220;The announcements go in the right direction,&#8221; political analyst –and Macri supporter– Marcos Novaro told <em>The Essential</em>, particularly after Monday&#8217;s step &#8220;towards suicide.&#8221;</p> <p dir="ltr">Novaro accurately predicted that the president&#8217;s new attitude would unlock the dialogue with Fernández.</p> <p dir="ltr">But there are still doubts and difficulties.</p> <p dir="ltr">María Esperanza Casullo sees a problem in the economic measures announced by the president: &#8220;(They) seem to be directed, on the whole, to the middle classes with registered jobs, &#8220;en blanco,&#8221; as we say, yet the brunt of the economic crisis, especially the price hikes, which have not been entirely felt yet, as they fall down the supply chain, will be felt by the poor, the unemployed or the almost 40% of Argentines which are paid under the table&#8221;.</p> <p dir="ltr">She added: &#8220;I truly believe that these measures, necessary and positive as they are, will not be enough to reverse the result in the October elections.&#8221;</p> <p dir="ltr">That means that a careful management of the political situation will be crucial.</p> <p dir="ltr">Alejandro Estévez, public policy professor at Universidad de Buenos Aires, who was an adviser for the Interior Ministry during <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/07/18/mauricio-macri-fernando-de-la-rua-structural-reforms-imf-financial-crisis-argentina-2001">Fernando De la Rúa</a>&#8216;s government that ended early and in chaos in late 2001, believes finding common ground it is crucial to avoid a new catastrophe.</p> <p dir="ltr">One in which, confronted by a weak administration, &#8220;everyone starts demanding everything at the same time and key players start to turn their back (against the government).&#8221;</p> <p dir="ltr">If that happens, says Estévez, everyone loses. It might –even– favor Macri, as fear invades the voters&#8217; hearts towards October&#8217;s general election.</p> <h2 dir="ltr">No early general elections</h2> <p dir="ltr">Argentina is now going through a peculiar conundrum, in which the incumbent has lost power and knows he will almost certainly be out on December 10, but there is no president-elect to properly negotiate a transition with.</p> <p dir="ltr">Fernández is still a candidate. One way of changing that, which was suggested by some, would be bringing the elections forward, so the primaries result is ratified and, as president-elect, Fernández can sit with Macri to draw a set of shared policies until the change of government.</p> <p dir="ltr">But Transport Minister Guillermo Dietrich rejected that option. &#8220;There is no chance the elections will be brought forward,&#8221; he said in a press conference on Wednesday.</p> <h2 dir="ltr">Macri&#8217;s party not dead</h2> <p dir="ltr">Casullo makes one final point to bear in mind: &#8220;Just as it was wrong to say that Kirchnerism was dead in 2015, it is profoundly wrong to think that PRO (Macri&#8217;s core party) is dead now.&#8221;</p> <p dir="ltr">She thinks they could make a comeback in 2023 and points to a counter intuitive fact: &#8220;The political system of Argentina is more stable than most people think.&#8221;</p> <p dir="ltr">Not the economy, though.</p> <p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the key question now is which one of the two Macris will prevail in the coming months: will it be Monday&#8217;s angry Macri or will it be Wednesday&#8217;s more measured, conciliatory, Macri?</p> <p dir="ltr">And even if it is the latter: will markets believe it; will Argentines believe it?</p> <p dir="ltr">

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Natalio Cosoy

Natalio Cosoy is the Argentine correspondent for France 24 in Spanish and has worked for the BBC, the Deutsche Welle and the Washington Post.