Pro-Macri rally brings short-term relief for Cambiemos

29th August 2019

By Luciana Bertoia

Pro-Macri rally brings short-term relief for Cambiemos

President Mauricio Macri breathed a sigh of relief on Saturday after a series of massive demonstrations in support of his presidential candidacy in some of the country’s main cities. But the respite could prove to be a short-lived one, as market turmoil has continued unabated and could spiral into renewed political instability.

Saturday’s demonstrations in the city of Buenos Aires and other districts, such as Córdoba, Mendoza and Rosario, prompted some officials to think it was possible to reverse the result of the primaries held on August 11, when Frente de Todos’ Alberto Fernández overtook the president by 15 points.

</p> <p>Yet experts doubt that the march may have had an impact on the October general elections, where they see Macri struggling to re-conquer votes, as the sense of economic doom seems inescapable.</p> <h2><strong>For and against demonstrations</strong></h2> <p>If there is one thing that characterized Macri, it’s that he has not made much use of demonstrations during his administration. His public appearances, in general, have been in small or closed spaces, and the police usually block all streets to avoid any potentially hostile elements when participating in official activities. But last Saturday, the president went out to the balcony of the Casa Rosada with his wife Juliana Awada to greet the crowd that had gathered outside.</p> <p>The president had done the same thing almost four years ago when he was inaugurated on December 10, 2015. Since then, the government&#8217;s wear and tear has been intense. &#8220;Mobilizations are not a resource that Macri&#8217;s PRO has used to build power,&#8221; political scientist Sergio de Piero told <em>The Essential</em>. &#8220;Therefore, it is a resource that Macri does not know how to use, unlike Peronism or leftist parties. For Macri, the appeal to mobilization is spasmodic,&#8221; he adds.</p> <p>Saturday’s demonstration was organized on social media, where celebrities such as film director Juan José Campanella and actor Luis Brandoni, known as staunch supporters of the ruling <em>Cambiemos</em> coalition called on people to take to the streets.</p> <p>A group called Defenders of Change, which promoted the march on social media, is already organizing a second one for October 19, after last Saturday’s event, which they believe was a big success. The Buenos Aires province chapter of Defenders of Change is also preparing a rally in Morón for September 8, when Governor María Eugenia Vidal turns 46, to express support for her re-election campaign.</p> <h2><strong>Demonstrators and voters</strong></h2> <p>Yet according to Ana Natalucci, a researcher at the Study Group on Social Protest and Collective Action (GEPSAC) at the University of Buenos Aires, the demonstration held on Saturday does not provide any new elements to believe that the government has regained momentum.</p> <p>&#8220;Those who took to the streets on Friday are part of a sector that has been participating in marches since 2012 and claims to defend republican values,&#8221; Natalucci told <em>The Essential</em>. &#8220;They took to the streets to protest against the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2012, then a year later to condemn the so-called “democratization of justice” bill promoted by the government and the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman in 2015,&#8221; she said.</p> <p>Both Natalucci and De Piero believe the demonstration is unlikely to have an impact on the October general elections, when Macri seeks to force a run-off with Fernández, also seen as improbable. According to the country’s electoral rules, a second round is avoided if a candidate gets more than 45% of the vote, as the Frente de Todos presidential candidate did in the primaries.</p> <p>&#8220;Saturday&#8217;s demonstration is now in the distant past,&#8221; says pollster Gustavo Córdoba, who came the closest to the right results amid many strong pollster misses in the primaries. He now predicts Fernández will surpass 50 points in October. &#8220;It was an expression of support of many of Macri&#8217;s voters. The march had an impact on hardcore supporters, on that 30 percent of the electorate that sees Juntos por el Cambio as the most competitive non-Peronist option,&#8221; he added in an interview with <em>The Essential</em>.</p> <h2><strong>Did we change?</strong></h2> <p>Following the demonstration, part of the government recovered some of its confrontational tone, in contrast with some pro-dialogue attempts that began with the appointment of Hernán Lacunza as Finance Minister. On the other hand, a group of officials reinstated the idea that the result of the primaries can be explained because Juntos por el Cambio had forgotten its roots.</p> <p>On Sunday, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña reappeared publicly in <a href="https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/marcos-pena-nos-falto-mas-territorio-mas-calle-mas-militancia-volver-a-las-fuentes-nid2281178">an interview</a> with <em>La Nación</em>. &#8220;We failed to go out into the streets,&#8221; said the president’s right-hand man, after days of friendly fire that accused him of being responsible for the defeat along with campaign strategist Jaime Durán Barba.</p> <p>Peña&#8217;s statement showed that the government was seeking to return to the home visits that had been made in the 2015 and 2017 campaigns. &#8220;The big problem is that to take that idea into action you have to recognize the economic crisis the country is undergoing and take measures to get closer to the people again,&#8221; De Piero says.</p> <p>For Córdoba, Macri&#8217;s mistake was believing he could point to institutional recovery and the hunt for new voters. &#8220;The two options are impossible, but at the moment the government is in a state of denial”, the pollster says.</p> <h2><strong>Political control</strong></h2> <p>In recent days, different media reported that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) envoys had spoken of a &#8220;power vacuum&#8221; during the meeting they had with Fernández and his economic team on Monday. The government directly blamed the Frente de Todos’ representatives for spreading that story.</p> <p>But the spectre of political instability is encouraged from the very ranks of the governing coalition, with the so-called political wing targeting Marcos Peña and Durán Barba.</p> <p>&#8220;In 2001, then-President <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> lost the midterm elections, but he was no longer in control of the party &#8211; the Radical Civic Union (UCR). Now Macri is the ultimate leader of the ruling coalition &#8211; and there is no one to stop the individual defections that are happening,&#8221; De Piero says.</p> <h2>Catch-22</h2> <p>As tension grows within the government, everything indicates that different segments of society will remain at the ready to take to the streets.</p> <p>Social organizations yesterday blocked 9 de Julio Avenue, arguably the most important in the city, for several hours. Sources close to the demonstrations said “the number of people present is something we haven’t seen since 2001.” The roadblocks will likely continue as the government is asked for measures to alleviate the crisis, which could nevertheless continue to prove insufficient if the Casa Rosada does not manage to turnaround the current massive market crash.</p> <p>A real catch-22 situation.</p> <p>

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Luciana Bertoia

Luciana Bertoia is a journalist specialized in judicial, political and human rights issues. She has published in Ámbito Financiero, Página/12, the Buenos Aires Herald and the International Justice Tribune.