Argentina’s Surprise

Why Macri Won—And What It Means for the Region

Mauricio Macri gestures to his supporters after the presidential election in Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 22, 2015. Reuters

This weekend’s vanquishing of incumbent Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sent a powerful signal of change to governments across the region, where populism and statist interventions have produced a decade of economic failure.

Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, was able to triumph over Kirchner because even as her government claimed to be socially progressive, providing public subsidies for poor families and lowering consumer prices, it had brought Argentina to an economic standstill. Without adequate revenue to finance public investment, Kirchner’s economic model plunged Argentina into deep public debt, and the economy stopped growing. As the central government ran out of money, it defaulted on foreign obligations and printed more money, causing inflation to rise more than 25 percent annually. Not surprisingly, the policies—and mounting evidence of public corruption—generated broad resistance. Not helping were the Kirchner administration’s fights with foreign creditors, attempts to submit the independent judiciary to political demands, and alienation of labor unions, once a Peronist stronghold.  Kirchner, once a popular political leader as the widow of former President Nestor Kirchner, lost her appeal in 2013, when a plebiscite defeated her bid for a constitutional reform that would have allowed her to run for a third term.

Macri promised change. He defeated Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires province and Kirchner’s anointed successor, whose campaign was based on painting Macri as a reactionary who would deprive the poor of social benefits. That campaign backfired badly. Macri, a popular official who had created a new party, Republican Proposal, offered a modern alternative to the outworn rivalry between Peronists on the left and the Radical Party on the right. A skilled public administrator, he eventually won the backing of Radical Party centrists and dissident Peronists, such as Sergio Massa, a popular mayor who led the charge against a possible Kirchner third term. Macri campaigned for negotiation between all democratic political sectors and labor unions as a way to recover national unity and restore

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