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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 10-04-2021 08:06

‘Imbeciles,’ restrictions and elections

It is common to hear people in Argentina complaining that issues have become politicised, meaning that powerful people representing conflicting interests have gridlocked an issue.

It is common to hear people in Argentina complaining that issues have become politicised, meaning that powerful people representing conflicting interests have gridlocked an issue. This idea is complemented by the disclaimer that during an electoral year, everything must be interpreted as being part of a calculated move put into action by government and opposition in order to win the most votes possible. Both of those concepts lay bare the absolute failure of “politics,” or at least our current democratic model, a curse that unfortunately has expanded well beyond the Río de la Plata. That failure is even more worrying in the midst of a global pandemic that has returned with rage across the globe, generating record numbers of cases and a troubling uptick in the number of deaths, as the occupation of intensive care unit beds rises, not to mention the ongoing economic disaster that Argentina is marred in.

Apparently counterintuitively, the intromission of politics into our most pressing needs is exactly what we have a political class for, and the reason why Western democracies have tended toward an organisational structure in the line of what Alexis de Tocqueville described in his classic On Democracy in America. A Republic organised under representative democratic values where freedom and equality are at the central objectives is what Tocqueville described in his research, where the Constitution plays a key role in the epistemological construction of a nation. Indeed, Argentina’s Constitution is deeply influenced by the US Founding Fathers.

Yet, in this day and age in Argentina, it feels as if the state is the perpetual enemy of the betterment of society. With the government and the opposition doing what they should, the system has proven ineffective at generating Hegelian synthesis that spark progress. One of the biggest issues on the desks of Argentina’s decision makers these past few weeks has been the response to the “second wave” of Covid-19 that has led to exponential growth in new cases. Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof — who is close to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the hardliners among the ruling Frente de Todos coalition — insisted on “extreme” lockdown measures, as cases in his jurisdiction appear to spiral out of control. On the flipside, Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta — the main voice in actual control of district within the opposing Juntos por el Cambio coalition — indicated that further restrictions would do more harm than good, accelerating an economic implosion just as we are beginning to see the green shoots of a timid rebound.

Both positions appear reasonable, and President Alberto Fernández seems to have ultimately reached some sort of consensus, yet immediately both sides came out swinging. “I read an imbecile the other day who called me a dictator,” Alberto said referring to a journalist. “What kind of dictatorship am I running? Taking care of people and asking them to be safe? Does anyone believe that whoever is ruling a nation can gain political victories using the number of cases? You have to be an imbecile or a really bad person to believe that,” concluded the president. From the opposition, Mauricio Macri’s former running-mate, Miguel Ángel Pichetto  — who is trying to build a Peronist vertical within Juntos por el Cambio — lashed out on Twitter: “The president is using restrictions to our liberties to cover the inefficiencies of its vaccination plan. People need to work, argentines have already put in a lot of effort and the government has responded with a lack of responsibility and inexperience.” Both of these postures help to cement opposing ideological views that, ultimately, make it more difficult to manage a coordinated response to the troubling second wave of Covid-19.

This leads to another highly politicised issue of the past several weeks: the postponement of the electoral cycle. This year we have our (in)famous PASO primaries, scheduled for August 8, and the general election on October 24. These midterm elections can consolidate the opposition’s legislative position, or solidify a super majority in the Senate for the Frente de Todos, where Cristina is in charge. The Fernández-Fernández administration has indicated it is looking to postpone the elections given the epidemiological risk of having elections during a pandemic, but the underlying motives are electoral, as the intention is to gain time in order for the economy to continue its rebound and the vaccination campaign to begin to put an end on the Covid-19 plague, allowing them to win. The opposition, of course, initially rejects their postponement, indicating there is a political use of the pandemic. Once again, both positions sound reasonable, but their political timing is evident. The PASO system was introduced by Mrs. Fernández de Kirchner back in 2009 to her political benefit, and they’ve been disputed by the weaker political player ever since. While there is a rationale behind having primaries, they’ve proven to be nothing more than an expensive nationwide poll that ultimately conditions the general election. They must be either reformed in order to force parties to hold primaries, or eliminated, as has been held by both sides of the political spectrum, but only when it was politically convenient for them. Thus, it has become part of the political tug-of-war, another element to feed the gridlock.

The relationship with the International Monetary Fund is also pierced by this useless politicking. With Economy Minister Martín Guzmán locked in difficult negotiations with the IMF in order to restructure its largest emergency loan ever, his own political party is verbally attacking the Fund. Cristina and Alberto have both publicly claimed the debt is impossible to pay, noting collusion between the IMF and the Macri administration while hinting the US wanted her out of the political game. Alberto instructed his Attorney General, none other than Carlos ‘el Chino’ Zannini, to participate in a criminal investigation for “fraudulent administration” and “defrauding the public administration” against Macri and several members of his economics team including Nicolás Dujovne and Guido Sandleris. In tandem, Máximo Kirchner and his mother are asking for a consensus with the opposition grouping all of the potential future presidents in order to resolve the issue of unsustainable indebtedness. On the other side, Macri and his team haven’t ever admitted their abject failure at running the economy and the consequences of such a massive bailout with the IMF. If they worked together to give Guzmán the support he needs to restructure the debt then there would be more certainty in the near future and help improve economic conditions.

Ultimately, when the political class gets involved in what they’re supposed to get involved with, they mess it up. And it’s every single one of us who pays the price.

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Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia

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