Let's talk Latin America

Out with Peronism, in with Mauricio Macri and the PRO

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Features editor Georgina Turner considers the future of Argentina following the election of Mauricio Macri, who is sworn in today as Argentina’s new President.

On the 22nd November Argentina elected its first president that was neither Peronist nor a member of the movement’s rival, the Radical Party, since the end of the military dictatorship in 1983. When Mauricio Macri of the Propuesta Republicana (PRO) party was elected, it came as a surprise to many – his opponent, Daniel Scioli, was designated heir of ex-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who the Economist has called a “charismatic but divisive populist.” Cristina, as she was affectionately known by her swathes of supporters, was arguably one of Argentina’s most powerful presidents ever, but a break with her policies has been welcomed by foreign investors and many who view Argentina’s stagnating economy as a ticking time bomb.

Kirchner has long held a special place in the hearts of the Argentine people. She drew on populism and a strong anti-imperialist rhetoric to fuel her presidency, and her commitment to addressing the grievances of the working classes has led to her inevitable comparison with the nation’s beloved Evita of the mid-twentieth century. She is proud of her polished persona and fierce good looks, confessing: “I have painted myself like a door since I was 14.”

Due to her popularity, her heir Daniel Scioli seemed the obvious answer to the question of who would win this year’s general election. Indeed, on the night of the 25th October, Scioli was so confident of an outright win – or that he would at least emerge from the first round of elections with a comfortable lead over his opponent, Mauricio Macri – that his team handed out orange T-shirts, baseball caps and pens covered with the word “president.” In retrospect, an awkward misjudgment.

In the end, it was underdog Mauricio Macri that prevailed. With a narrow victory of just 3 percentage points, Macri was elected upon promises to change those unpopular elements of kircherismo, such as isolation from major foreign creditors and what The Economist calls Peronism’s “iron grip on political power”, while maintaining Cristina’s commitment to social and welfare programs. Following Macri’s victory, many are breathing a sigh of relief. He will lift exchange controls and reverse the taxation of farmers and harassment of private investors. He will also shift Argentina’s allegiance away from China, Iran, Venezuela and Russia and attempt to normalise relations with the United States and Europe. Given that the Peronists are still in control of the Senate, none of this will be easy. The first package of legislation will need to be more centre-left than centre-right in order to get through political restrictions, but as long as Macri proves himself to be a transparent and trustworthy president, he can hope that confidence in him, felt both at home and abroad, will flood the economy and boost his power.

The end of kircherismo signifies a turning point not only for Argentina but for all of South America. Macri’s election means a focus on economic growth, corruption in government and violent crime, and represents a step back from Pink Tide policies and a return to the centre-right.

Header photo by Gabriel Rossi/ STF