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Argentina’s Macri Trounced by Voters Angry Over Economy

BUENOS AIRES — President Mauricio Macri of Argentina was unexpectedly trounced in primary elections, suggesting that voters angered over his austerity measures and the country’s deep recession and soaring inflation are inclined to put their faith in his leftist opponents.

Mr. Macri looked ashen late Sunday night. Polls had predicted a tight race, but he received 32 percent of the vote, lagging 16 points behind the ticket in which the country’s former president and political powerhouse, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is running as vice president with a little-known presidential candidate.

“We had a bad election,” Mr. Macri told supporters in Buenos Aires as he vowed to “redouble efforts” to win back support before the presidential election in October.

The results were seen as a vindication of Mrs. Kirchner’s comeback plan, which was met with surprise and skepticism when she announced it in May. The deeply-polarizing former leader, who has been indicted in 11 corruption cases, tapped Alberto Fernández, a more moderate politician, to run as president.

Analysts said Monday that they saw little room for Mr. Macri to recover, warning that the electoral loss would only worsen the economic problems that have dogged his administration.

“This is irreversible,” said Lucas Romero, who runs Synopsis, a local polling firm. “Beyond the numbers themselves the result will have an impact on the economic situation that will prevent the government from changing people’s perspectives.”

Argentina’s currency fell, and its bonds and stocks plunged as investors, who had put significant faith in Mr. Macri’s belt-tightening efforts, braced for the possibility of a victory by Mrs. Kirchner.

Critics accuse her of overseeing a deeply corrupt government that distorted official economic figures and relied on a patchwork of unsustainable subsidies and social programs to retain political support.

Mr. Fernández, who despite being Mrs. Kirchner’s running mate had been harshly critical of her presidency, seemed eager to placate investors in his victory speech late Sunday.

“We did not come to restore a regime, we came to build a new Argentina,” he said.

Mrs. Kirchner kept a low profile on Sunday, suggesting that she deems it prudent to keep Mr. Fernández in the limelight as many in Argentina and abroad wonder whether he would effectively be a figurehead president if the two emerge victorious.

In a recorded video message broadcast at the coalition headquarters Sunday night, Mrs. Kirchner thanked supporters.

“We are optimistic and happy that so many Argentines decided that things need to change in Argentina,” she said.

The margin between the two candidates signaled that Argentina’s presidential election could be decided in the first round, which will be held on Oct. 27. To win outright, a candidate must get at least 45 percent of the vote, or 40 percent while leading an opponent by at least 10 percentage points.

Some in Mr. Fernández’s coalition were characterizing a landslide victory in October as a foregone conclusion.

“We are starting a new era,” said Axel Kicillof, the candidate for governor of Buenos Aires allied with Mr. Fernández.

Mr. Kicillof’s victory in Buenos Aires province, the country’s most populous, was one of the biggest shockers of the night because he won over the incumbent, María Eugenia Vidal, a Macri ally who was regarded as a rising star in Argentine politics.

The resounding defeat for the government was a reflection of widespread disillusionment among Argentines with Mr. Macri. His election in 2015 was hailed by many in the international community as he promised to open up the economy and fight the type of corruption that has been endemic in Argentina for decades.

Yet the economy suffered, and Mr. Macri’s structural economic reforms hurt poor and middle-class families across the nation, prompting voters to sour on the president as inflation reached more than 50 percent this year.

Mr. Macri last year took the politically risky decision to request a loan from the International Monetary Fund, which provided Argentina a $57 billion bailout, the largest in the fund’s history. The fund is widely despised in Argentina because many blame it for an economic collapse in 2001.

In the run-up to the election, Mr. Macri received endorsements from leaders in the region, including Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who said Argentina would face “serious problems” if Mrs. Kirchner were to return to power.

A victory for Mr. Fernández in Argentina would be a boost for the left in Latin America, where center-right candidates have been consistently beating leftist parties that had become dominant in much of the region in the early 2000s.

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