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Pablo Stefanoni

Editor-in-Chief, Nueva Sociedad, Argentina

Mauricio Macri’s victory in the second round of voting in the Argentine presidential election has caused a major political upheaval in the country. Macri’s victory marks the end of 12 years of “Kirchnerism”. Sunday’s result also has continental dimensions: centre-right party’s victory filled the opposition forces in the Bolivarian countries with enthusiasm. They believe that the triumph of a candidate who stands closest ideologically to the Pacific Alliance (Alianza del Pacífico) and who is more liberal in terms of economic policy could have a domino effect.

Mauricio Macri’s victory in the second round of voting in the Argentine presidential election has caused a major political upheaval in the country. The leader of the Republican Proposal (Propuesta Republicana, or Pro), a relatively small centre-right party that has been around for a little over a decade, emerged victorious with 51.4 per cent of the votes, beating out the Peronist candidate Daniel Scioli, who received 48.6 per cent of the votes. Macri’s victory marks the end of 12 years of “Kirchnerism”, the name given to the political philosophy developed under the government of Néstor Kirchner, who died in 2010, and his wife Cristina Fernández. It was a centre-left version of the traditional and powerful Justicialist Party (Partido Justicialista) founded by Juan Perón in the 1940s, a party which has followed many political ideologies throughout its history depending on the international situation. Kirchnerism has been the main political force over the past decade and is marked by its project to promote social inclusion policies, reconstruct the state that had been weakened during the 1990s and expand civil rights (such as same-sex marriage). But this progress was accompanied by growing social discontent, which was made even worse by the media. The ruling party failed to interpret this discontent correctly, and the centre-right capitalized on the situation.

Sunday’s result also has continental dimensions: Macri’s victory has filled the opposition forces in the Bolivarian countries with enthusiasm. They believe that the triumph of a candidate who stands closest ideologically to the Pacific Alliance (Alianza del Pacífico) and who is more liberal in terms of economic policy could have a domino effect that will eventually bring about the “end to the South American cycle” that began with Hugo Chávez being elected to power in 1998 and was followed in the 2000s by Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, Evo Morales, Tabaré Vázquez and Rafael Correa. To be sure, Macri’s victory celebrations were attended, among others, by the wife of the Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López, who is serving 13 years in prison for destabilizing the regime following a controversial trial.

The Peronists defeat has its roots in the eye-opening first round of the presidential election held on October 25 of this year. At the time, all the polls suggested that Scioli would win without the need to go to a ballotage. But the results were very different: not only had the ruling party’s candidate failed to score a quick victory, his lead over Macri was a mere 3 percentage points. What is more, Pro candidate María Eugenia Vidal won a shock victory to become governor of the populous Buenos Aires Province, where almost 40 per cent of the electorate live. The region has been a stronghold of the Peronist government since 1987 and losing it was a great blow to the ruling party. Young, amiable and with an intelligent “post-ideological” discourse, Vidal embodies the style of the “ordinary person” (a person that doesn’t look like a professional politician even if he or she is one) that is cultivated by Pro, and whose brightest proponent is Macri himself. This surprise result made Macri the favourite to win the presidential election, and Scioli was left to negotiate a tricky path full of obstacles. Although technically he had won the first round of voting, he had lost it from a political point of view.

Mauricio Macri started out as a businessman before being elected President of the popular football club Boca Juniors in 1995, which helped to get him over with the people. After leaving the club in 2007, he won the mayoral elections of the City of Buenos Aires in 2007, thus carving out his political career towards the Casa Rosada – the seat of the Argentinian government. The recently published book The World of Pro. The Anatomy of a Party Made to Win (Mundo Pro. Anatomía de un partido fabricado para ganar) written by Gabriel Vommaro, Sergio Morresi and Alejandro Bellotti explains several of the new right’s innovations, which make it different in many ways to the old conservative parties. Macri’s party pursues a policy that is supposedly free of conflict – as opposed to the “tension” caused by the alleged populism of Kirchnerism – and the “reconciliation of all Argentines.” With its modern image, closer to the style of U.S. election campaigns, this new party attracted former members of the traditional political parties, successful businesspeople, young professionals, leaders of the traditional right, and even social activists. Open to New Age sensibilities, with a party atmosphere and a feeling of being “close to the people”, Macri constructed a political force that was able to put an end to the hegemony of Kirchnerism and make way for a new and uncertain scenario of change. To secure victory, Macri forged an alliance with the traditional Radical Civic Union (Unión Cívica Radical) and smaller parties to create the “Cambiemos” (“Let’s change”) alliance, which called for an effective marketing policy and relatively empty political discourse, but compelling enough to get the peoples’ vote. The ruling party’s candidate accused Macri of representing the hedge funds that are now the bane of the country, wanting to make adjustments to Argentina’s fiscal policy that would hurt workers, and being a candidate of the rich and powerful. But none of this prevented Macri and the centre-right party from emerging victorious.

Under the advice of the Ecuadorian Jaime Durán Barba, Macri was forced to “cleanse” himself and shake off the stigma of being a neoliberal that had followed him like a shadow. To do this, he swore that he would not change all the “good” that Kirchnerism had brought, particularly in terms of social inclusion and, above all, that he would not privatize public enterprises. That is, he swore not to return the country to the 1990s, when neoliberalism, driven by the Peronist Carlos Menem, dismantled the state and generated new and persistent inequalities.

But Macri’s victory cannot be put down to his achievements alone. Scioli was unable to find an identity throughout the course of the campaign. While the Peronist candidate and then Governor of Buenos Aires Province received the backing of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who could not run for a third term, the Kirchnerites never liked him and were always suspicious of his intentions. In fact, to ensure that he did not depart from her planned project, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made Scioli accept one of the central figures of Kirchnerism, Carlos Zannini, as his vice president. A leading Kirchnerite intellectual, Horacio González, said that he would be “torn” about voting for Scioli, because deep down he did not consider him to be a successor of the project developed by Néstor and Cristina Kirchner. He was talking about Scioli’s past – a powerboat racer who came to politics in the 1990s thanks to Menem and championed neoliberalism until the end of the decade. But even today, Scioli has caused resentment among Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s followers, as his “faith and hope” rhetoric was not ideological enough, and too conservative, for them. To be sure, this formulation is founded not in his politics, but in his life: he lost an arm in a boat race and was able to overcome this tragedy. His discourse, which is far removed from the populism of the Kirchner left, sounds like it has been taken from a self-help book.

Feeling the pressure of the president, who made her presence known too well during the election campaign, Scioli came to be viewed as a “puppet” candidate with no personality. His advantage was to appear more moderate than the president, and this helped him win a number of votes from those who had grown tired of Kirchner’s hectic style of governance. Kirchner’s presence in the pre-election campaign ultimately hurt Scioli. And the intense mobilization of the party’s members over the last few days of the campaign aimed at “containing the right” proved to be too little too late.

Durán Barba advised Macri to build his election campaign on “change”, in as opposed to “continuity”, and the 12 years of Kirchnerism have apparently created a basis for change – and no one knows for sure just what that change will be.

For now, the new president will not have a majority in parliament, nor will he have a majority of governors. He will face certain hostility from the trade unions, which will be suspicious of his words and his business look. People are unsure whether Macri will stick to his moderate election campaign line, or try to implement changes that will shock the economy into life. The latter seems unlikely, although a number of his financial advisors cut their teeth in the 1990s. Dissatisfaction with inflation and the arbitrary handling of official statistics, along with a form of government that at times appears to be closed to constructive dialogue – these are some of the reasons for why the Peronists lost the election on November 22, 2015, along with the fact that the new president promised to govern the country differently, in a more open way and with more constructive dialogue.

Two Argentinas could be seen on Sunday: one on the verge of tears, anticipating the onset of bitter days, with the country in the hands of the right; and the other smiling from ear to ear, thinking about the country coming together as one once again. Meanwhile, Macri is preparing to be sworn into office on December 10, upon which he can begin building the road towards what he calls a “wonderful future.”

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