Sunday
August 20, 2017

The week

Friday, June 16, 2017

The first step for PASO

Florencío Randazzo (right) — the mouse that roared — alongside former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in more harmonious days.
By Michael Soltys / Senior Editor

Yet again this weekly’s Friday publication date conspires against the main news of the week receiving proportionate space — the deadline for electoral alliances (with the Argentine mania for doing everything at the last minute) expired only a few hours ago, allowing little time to add much to what is already in the editorial on page 16.

Impossible to catch up on what happened around the country (quite confusing in various provinces, which is why the Wednesday deadline was rolled over until yesterday morning) but the biggest unknown has already been clarified, even in time for the editorial — namely, ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner turning her back on Peronism in Buenos Aires province.

Just a couple of comments plus a caveat — neither are the options closed on a single list nor is the CFK candidacy confirmed until a week tomorrow. Firstly, there is a consensus among most pundits that effectively splitting Peronism into three (including Sergio Massa’s Renewal Front) is political suicide and very likely too but Juan Domingo Perón’s comparison of Peronists to cats “who when they seem to be fighting are really reproducing” springs to mind. Could this irrational strategy actually multiply votes? CFK is having her cake and eating it too by sending in José Clemente Paz Mayor Mario Ishii to contest the mainstream Peronist primary with party rebel ex-minister Florencio Randazzo (also splitting all the lavish prime time and campaign funding corresponding to that major party).

Yet this columnist forecasts that CFK will win her Senate seat because of her stranglehold on the Greater Buenos Aires vote. There is nothing illogical about that loyalty. For several decades the main priority for Argentina’s surplus value has been the urban sprawl, the industrial belt and the Peronist mob of Greater Buenos Aires — the Mauricio Macri administration is very quietly breaking with that focus.

CFK is thus in the GBA self-interest as a return to their good old days but there could be some very interesting results for Macri in the rest of the country.

A TALE OF TWO ELECTIONS

If both sides of the English Channel voted within three days of each other a week or so ago, those contests might offer some useful lessons for this year’s elections here crossing their first hurdle now. Perhaps the most striking contrast between Britain and France (with electorates of roughly similar size) is that while French President Emmanuel Macron was a macro-winner with 6.3 million votes, British Prime Minister Theresa May was a disMayed loser with 13.67 million votes or more than double — this Sunday Macron could sweep up to almost 80 percent of National Assembly seats on the back of just one voter out of every nine last Sunday while May’s hard Brexit has been pulverised.

All of which goes to show that electoral perceptions and hard psephological statistics can be two very different things. As has been suggested more than once in this column this year, Macri’s government could make strong gains nationwide from a low 2013 base and yet CFK might be seen as the big winner if she lays claim to just one of the 24 Senate seats at stake. May is globally seen as losing to Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn despite winning 56 more seats but Corbyn is nowhere near being PM (even a Tony Blair would find it impossible to bring the half-dozen non-Tory parties together, never mind a far more dogmatic JC) — his performance was pretty average for elections which Labour do not win (Britain has enough grey areas to ensure that party a floor of around 250 seats even in most bad years) and only shone by comparison with Ed Milliband’s meltdown of 232 seats two years ago.

Even if May technically won the elections, she could be designated a loser inasmuch as her party lost seats (quite apart from falling so short of her own far loftier expectations two months ago) but the Scottish National Party were much bigger losers, even in terms of absolute number of seats from a far smaller total —56 of the 59 Scottish seats from the previous election was, of course, a wholly unsustainable peak. Massa (scrambling for allies wherever he can find them and recently adding Victoria Donda to Margarita Stolbizer in his collection of progressive ladies) might well end up with broadly similar results to the SNP for entirely different reasons.

One important difference between the last two votes in Britain and the two votes ahead of Argentina this year is that the former were gratuitous while the latter are inescapable. Britain’s Conservatives have now miscalculated two years running, first with the Brexit referendum and now with this snap election, both backfiring badly — three strikes and they could be out for a long time. If he had any choice, Macri would dispense with both August’s PASO nationwide primaries (if indeed they deserve that name with so many single lists) and October’s midterms but they are statutory. Gratuitous moves here belong far more to CFK.

May’s fate should warn the Macri government against any overconfidence prompted by the Peronist disarray over PASO candidacies. Calling the Brexit bluff last year and then securing a mandate for the Brexit negotiations by taking full advantage of a 23-24 percent lead over Corbyn (which might logically have been expected to double after the recent terrorist attacks) both seemed smart enough moves which ended up as costly failures — nobody is “condemned to success” in Argentina either. Quite apart from the opinion poll gap, May’s strategists were counting on total absorption of UKIP (an eighth of the votes in 2015 or almost four million votes and nowhere to go with their Brexit agenda already fulfilled), which was projected to win as many as 362 seats instead of the final 318 — instead those voters simply reverted to their pre-Brexit preferences. Macri is also banking on polarisation against CFK but equally might find voters going their own way.

And France? Only four deputies won the absolute majority required for first-round election last Sunday, leaving 573 seats to be filled this Sunday — let’s see what happens. But in any event the National Front presence will be minimal.

A TALE OF TWO VISITS

Last week’s column was written with the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel (herself in campaign mode) still in progress — this week it was the turn of Portuguese premier Antonio Costa.

Like most visitors, Merkel praised Macri’s reforms but also implied that next year’s G20 host still has a long way to go. Germany could be a “demanding partner,” she said sternly, but also sought to show a more human face by including a visit to Memory Park and dedication of a Walcker organ at the downtown synagogue in her flying visit.

Costa represented a different side of the European Union which Britain is trying to leave — not only from less prosperous Southern Europe but a Socialist heading a Lisbon coalition uniquely combining the moderate, extreme and populist left. Yet covering both sides of the EU both regionally and politically certainly enhances Macri’s international prestige and was a good start for the brand-new Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie (a former envoy in Lisbon).

LABOUR ETC.

Wednesday saw the most visible expression of pay discontent with the teacher marches causing chaos in downtown traffic around noon but behind the scenes that same day INDEC statistics bureau posted a disturbing unemployment rate of 9.2 percent (Greater Buenos Aires in the forefront with 111.8 percent) for the first quarter of this year, showing 1.7 million Argentines to be out of work despite job creation in that period — the fluctuation largely responds to seasonal factors, however. Needless to say, the teacher pay dispute in Buenos Aires province remains deadlocked.

Yesterday saw a southern suburban bus strike triggered by the slaying of a driver which seemed to command rather more public attention than all the political frenzy surrounding PASO nominations. Córdoba was denied bus transport for fully eight days but the dispute was finally settled this week.

Meanwhile with increasing frequency Macri’s rhetoric hones in against the “trial industry” of accidents at work (this issue merits deeper analysis than remaining space permits but perhaps the real problem is a system which leaves employers at large picking up the tab instead of insurance companies, as in most countries).

Nor does space permit much on the ongoing Odebrecht scandal but the co-operation agreement reportedly signed yesterday between Attorneys General Alejandra Gils Carbó and Rodrigo Janot (Brazil) ensures that this story will keep moving in the weeks and months to come.

So will the economy — as a story rather than as an expanding gross national product. The high interest rates to tame inflation not only clash with fiscal deficit laxity but suck almost all the substantial dollar inflow away from the productive sector where foreign direct investment is little over half last year’s meagre levels — financial speculation is more lucrative than ever while the costs and risks of serious investment are discouragingly high.

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Edition No. 5055 - This publication is a property of NEFIR S.A. -RNPI Nº 5343955 - Issn 1852 - 9224 - Te. 4349-1500 - San Juan 141 , (C1063ACY) CABA - Director Perdiodístico: Ricardo Daloia
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