Buenos Aires Times

Cristina, Mauricio and the battle for a nation’s soul

While the Macri administration is miles apart from the Kirchneristas in most terms related to governance, the core of the PRO party has shown a few worrying signs that hopefully aren’t a foreshadowing of things to come.

Friday 20 October, 2017
Cristina Kirchner and Mauricio Macri.
Cristina Kirchner and Mauricio Macri. Foto:Pablo Temes.

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The defining word of our times could well be change. We have entered a constant state of transition in almost every aspect of our lives, a phenomenon that only seems to be accelerating. Some would argue that this new era of constant paradigm shift is no longer solid, as boundaries, both tangible and metaphysical, melt away and reality becomes liquid. In this context, Mauricio Macri and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will face off in an epic battle for Argentina’s soul that most pollsters agree is heavily bent in the president’s favour.

If indeed Cristina consumes the last drops of her political capital to get a Senate seat, the onus will be on the ruling Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition to avoid some of the vices that have plagued the country for the better part of 200 years, in order to truly generate a cultural shift that will allow for prosperity. Learning from political mistakes – such as the initial reaction to the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado or the lack of social sensibility to economic hardships – is crucial for the likes of María Eugenia Vidal, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, Elisa Carrió, Marcos Peña and of course, President Macri. As will be avoiding the hubris that characterised Cristina throughout most of her tenure.

Starting with CFK, her pyrrhic victory in the PASO primaries seems to have deflated her to the point where she now feels forced to play nice with the media. The last set of polls all point to a strong victory by Cambiemos’ Esteban Bullrich, who should overcome the former president by anywhere from 2.5 to 4.3 percentage points. (It’s interesting how pundits seem to have forgotten that many of the same pollsters had predicted a landslide victory for CFK in the primaries, and how almost none of them expected Macri to beat Scioli in the 2015 presidential election).

After eight years in power, during which she never took questions from professional journalists, Fernández de Kirchner has given more than six interviews and even a press conference in the last few weeks, as she looks to add to her meagre one-fifth of a percentage point victory in the primaries, seemingly to no avail. Even if she gets the expected Senate seat, her high disapproval ratings (which measured in at 61.7 percent in September, almost her highest in the past two years) and a number of high-profile legal cases against her — including being accused of high treason for the Memorandum of Understanding with Iran — will conspire to finally bury her aspirations of returning to the Pink House.

Yet Fernández de Kirchner is a key person in Macri’s electoral strategy and his advisors — as have her own — have convinced the president to deepen the political polarisation that has generated a climate of extreme animosity, several times boiling over into violence. Interestingly, the liquid world of postmodernity has given way to a rise in extremism and the grieta has become widespread across the democracies of Western Europe and the Americas.

While the Macri administration is miles apart from the Kirchneristas in most terms related to governance, the core of the PRO party — the heart of the ruling coalition — has shown a few worrying signs that hopefully aren’t a foreshadowing of things to come. Attorney- General Alejandra Gils Carbó, ideologically close to the Kirchnerites through her association to the Justicia Legítima group, has suffered persistent attempts from Macri’s political operators to get her removed; on Friday she was prosecuted for fraud and her assets embargoed. There are many questionable things about Gils Carbó’s tenure, including the arbitrary designation of prosecutors in key cases, but that is no justification for the government’s attempts to push her out of a role that by definition should be non-political.

At the same time, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich’s stubborn defence of the Gendarmerie (Border Guards) in the Santiago Maldonado case, denying foul play instead of investigating, was followed by the strong support of Marcos Peña and even Macri. It took morethan a month after Santiago’s disappearance for the government to push for an open investigation, proving once again that human rights isn’t a priority for Cambiemos.

Macri and his apostles would do well to listen to behavioural economist Richard Thaler, who this week won a Nobel Prize. Thaler argues that our incentives aren’t simply financial. Human subjectivity is as powerful or even more powerful than rationality, making decision-making a complex process. Markets aren’t predictable by theory alone, or by pure randomness. People will work harder for the recognition of their peers than for dollar bills.

At this historic juncture, Macri has the opportunity to generate a cultural paradigm shift, helping to eradicate our instinctual “viveza criolla.” Reforming the legal system, instead of using it to dismiss Panama Papers investigations or unilaterally persecute the political opposition, is the key to ridding our country of corruption.

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