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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 25-05-2019 10:29

Two less polarised poles

Until last Saturday, Argentina’s polarisation was a force of pressure: as if one were inside a scrap cruncher.

Until last Saturday, Argentina’s polarisation was centrifugal: the two poles moved away from one another and sucked up in everything in the middle. The “middle road” coined by dissident Peronist Sergio Massa had become so wide that anyone who dared to cross it died of thirst.

Until last Saturday, Argentina’s polarisation was a force of pressure: as if one were inside a scrap cruncher.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has shifted toward the centre of the political spectrum, forcing President Mauricio Macri to do the same. They already have the votes of their loyalists. Now they must compete for moderate voters.

In a social media video just 13 minutes long, Fernández de Kirchner sent a strong message to five groups:

To Peronists, she urged unity: it’s here and now. 'There is a place for everyone: if I’ve forgiven Alberto Fernández, I can also forgive you. In one fell swoop, she dismantled the federalist Peronist movement and proved Córdoba Governor’s Juan Schiaretti’s point: you’re not an alpha male, I am. And I’m a feminist.'

To President Mauricio Macri, she was hitting him where it hurts: the economy and the internal politics of his Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition. Her discourse about the economy was about common sense, and it does not favour the Macri government. With regards to the internal politics of his coalition – be it Plan V, H or L – she hit the nail on the head with one phrase: “As leaders, we must leave all personal vanity aside and I am willing to offer ideas from the place where I’m most needed.” Some Cambermos coalition Radical party leaders said “She’s really scary,” while they rubbed their hands.

To the country’s power players, the ‘círculo rojo,’ she spoke into both ears. ‘Don’t you believe that I’ve changed? Look, I’ll put Alberto Fernández in the top spot, the one who’s a friend of the Clarín media group, the one who always gave them interviews, the one who quit because of my government’s dispute with farmers, the one who insulted me in 1,001 ways. Relax and come to me, now I’m more like Trump than Maduro.’ The champagne corks were said to be popping in IMF circles.

To the country’s Judiciary, she said nothing specifically, but somehow she spoke to them too. By taking the vice-presidential candidacy she minimised the impact of the criminal investigations she faces on the outcome of the election. ‘Just play along now, the candidate is someone else; but watch your backs! Because I’m coming back.’

The last group is the most important. and the most uncertain. The four aforementioned groups define national politics; among them are parties, state institutions and the powers that be. The fifth group, however, defines demand: the electorate, the people. In summary, the ones who will decide. And Fernández de Kirchner has huge credentials in political creativity but a poor history in electoral strategy. What today seems like a master strategy could tomorrow become a phenomenal fiasco.

For now, it works. The Kirchnerite movement has begun to behave like Pac-Man toward marginalised Peronists. The Macri government reacted as it always does: denialism. As always, this is their first phase, soon enough they’ll get angry about it. Surely they are already studying poll numbers.

In any case, the challenge presented to them by Fernández de Kirchner will force them to innovate. Markets are already trying to decipher the impact of her novel decision. One thing was for certain: she monopolised last Sunday’s front pages.

The ideological substance of her message is simple: popular nationalism kills the left and anti-imperialism. Today few people remember that in 2015 Macri wanted a return to the soft world of Barack Obama. Cristina, on the other hand, is comfortable in the harsh world of Trump. And because she knows the world is harsh, her most eloquent phrase spoke of things beyond the electoral calendar. It’s clear, she said, “that the coalition in government must be broader than the one that wins the election.” She needs to accumulate support beyond October because the worst is not over. Though some criticise her, many of her supporters and the allies of Cambiemos en masse say exactly what she is saying.

Fernández de Kirchner’s decision consolidates Argentina’s polarisation. But it also moderates it too. There will now be two less polarised poles.

It is bad news for federalist Peronists. It is good news for the Macri government, but a problem for its Cambiemos coalition. It remains to be seen what it means for Argentina, whoever wins.

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Andrés Malamud

Andrés Malamud

Professor of the University of Lisbon.

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