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July 26, 2017
Friday, July 14, 2017

Men in the middle — or mediocre?

Polarisation does not have to be the

name of the game in this year’s elections but those resisting this trend need to offer something more positive than a curse on both houses if they are to attract the middle ground. The last time the nation voted in the 2015 presidential elections, almost 30 percent of the electorate shunned both the eventual run-off candidates and there is every reason to suppose that this constituency has grown since then — rather than try and work out whether the current or previous government is more responsible for today’s afflictions, many people would prefer to go looking for new alternatives. Yet the latter will need to do rather more than simply ride a fragmented political spectrum if they are to construct new majorities.

If we look at the main battleground in Buenos Aires province, we can see that the main alternatives to the ruling Let’s Change coalition and ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner are the dissident Peronist Sergio Massa (now teaming up with his 2015 Progressives presidential rival Margarita Stolbizer) and the orthodox Peronist Florencio Randazzo. Yet both men are much better at saying what they are not than what they represent. Massa’s message is constantly “anti-rift” without presenting constructive alternatives. This is not to say that his campaign lacks proposals but none of these are serious. Thus he advocates the elimination or drastic reduction of IVA value-added tax on basic food items without explaining how he would prevent an already dangerously high fiscal gap from widening — he also has an anti-crime platform which is a confused mixture of harnessing new technology and old-fashioned law-and-order rhetoric. More recently he has tried to jump onto the anti-corruption bandwagon by announcing the waiver of his parliamentary privileges — thus ignoring the constitutional norm that they cannot be relinquished without resigning the seat because they are essential for ensuring free parliamentary opinion. Randazzo is receiving plenty of attention for mostly opportunistic reasons — from Peronists seeking to form part of a renewed leadership and from pro-government media anxious to fragment Peronism — but after over a year’s silence the ex-minister now opens his mouth to say little more than that he is not on the same page as CFK.

Both men have their laurels from the past. Massa won the last midterms in 2013 while in 2015 he successfully resisted polarisation by actually improving his PASO vote in the first round — Randazzo not only stood up to CFK but had the rare merit of spending his ministerial budgets on their intended purposes such as trains and DNI identity documents. Yet if they are to mark a path ahead other than the forked road being offered by the two main forces, they will need to give it both a road map and a direction.

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