Outgoing Argentinian president to skip Macri’s swearing-in

Ceremony will be muted as new president seeks to kickstart deeply flawed economy

Argentina’s president-elect Mauricio Macri: wants a free trade deal between Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance trade bloc of Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia. Photograph: Enrique Marcarian/Reuters

Argentina’s president-elect Mauricio Macri: wants a free trade deal between Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance trade bloc of Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia. Photograph: Enrique Marcarian/Reuters

 

Mauricio Macri’s swearing-in as Argentina’s first democratically elected right-wing president takes place on Thursday amid an unedifying spat with the outgoing Peronist leader Cristina Kirchner.

She has threatened to abandon the presidential Casa Rosada palace, dumping the ceremonial sash and baton of office there, and return to her family’s political base in Patagonia without participating in the day’s solemnities in protest over how her successor sought to organise his inauguration

Exercising the incoming president’s traditional privilege, Macri wanted to receive the symbols of office in the Casa Rosada before proceeding to the congress to take the oath of office.

Kirchner refused, demanding the handover take place in congress and she took to social media to accuse Macri of “loud shouting” during a phone call to discuss the issue. “The abuse I received during a phone call between myself and the president-elect was inexplicable and almost unbelievable,” she wrote on her personal website.

In response the incoming president, a rather reserved engineer by training – who unlike his predecessor – is not known for losing his temper, turned to the courts, winning an injunction that ruled Kirchner’s term would end at midnight last night, which promptly led to accusations by her supporters that this amounts to a “coup”.

Rampant corruption

Her final gesture hijacks Macri’s day, making it about her absence or, should she change her mind and decide to show up at congress, her final farewell to the Kirchnerista militants who will rally before the legislature in a defiant goodbye to their leader, though the latter possibility seems unlikely after her supporters in congress said on Wednesday they would boycott the ceremony.

This truculence is in keeping with a strained handover in which the incoming administration has received no help in managing the transition. Since her party’s candidate lost last month’s election, Kirchner has gone out of her way to make life difficult for her successor, signing several decrees that further drained the scant resources she leaves behind after years of profligate populism.

It is not only in Argentina that such Latin populism is now in retreat. Notably absent from Thursday’s ceremony will be Kirchner’s close ally, Nicolás Maduro, the chavista president of Venezuela. Instead of attending the ceremony, he used his In Touch With Maduro television and radio programme on Tuesday to describe Macri as “an ultra-rightist option, neoliberal, extremist, anti-Latin American and profoundly anti-Bolivarian. Macri is a bourgeois of the elite and all the government he has nominated is the cream of the elite. I think you are going to do very badly, Señor Macri.”

But Maduro spoke from a position of increasing weakness. On Sunday, his socialist party suffered a crushing defeat in mid-term elections. On Tuesday night, Venezuela’s electoral authorities confirmed that the opposition had won a two-thirds majority in the national assembly, which will greatly strengthen its ability to curb Maduro’s executive powers.

One leader who will be present is Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, contradicting earlier reports that the political chaos raging in Brasília would prevent her from travelling to the event. She will arrive in Buenos Aires under a cloud, locked as she is in a bitter battle to avoid impeachment.

She has denied the accusations levelled against her that she illegally massaged her administration’s accounts in order to mask a gaping hole in the public finances. But her political vulnerability stems from the failure of her so-called “new economic matrix”, a populist mix of Neo-Keynesian policies, which has provoked the country’s worst recession in decades, fuelling calls for her removal.

Ironically, right-winger Macri’s swearing-in as president could help Roussef’s efforts to drag her country’s economy out of the mire. He has already signalled that he wants to abandon Kirchner’s veto on any trade deal between the regional Mercosur trade bloc and the EU.

Rousseff has been pushing for such an agreement as a means of opening desperately needed new trade frontiers for Brazilian exporters.

Argentina’s passing from being the biggest obstacle to an advocate of a deal will, from the South American perspective, leave Ireland and the Irish Farmers’ Association as the main opponents of any possible accord that would expose Europe’s farmers to greater competition from their more competitive Latin rivals.

Trade deals

Pacific AllianceMexicoPeruChileColombiaLuiz Inácio Lula da Silva

That is increasingly recognised to have been a strategic error. The alliance’s members are weathering the regional slowdown better than Mercosur’s members, having used their bloc’s trade deals to insert themselves into global supply chains.

But while Macri’s inauguration as Argentina’s president signals a liberal turn in the approach of South America’s two biggest economies to trade, the ultimate success of his presidency will depend on his ability to revive an exhausted domestic economy that is living beyond its means after 12 years of Peronist profligacy.

The victory of a conservative businessman was enough to produce a wave of market optimism about the country’s prospects. But the new president will be wary of too much euphoria.

Argentina exercises a strange fascination for speculators and has been a darling of foreign investors before. The experience did not end well.

For Macri to succeed he will have to strengthen the country’s institutions, traditionally vulnerable to political manipulation and currently packed with Kirchner loyalists.

But if he can revive the economy and ensure the benefits of more sustainable growth are widely spread, then the democratic right will be able to claim a rare victory on a continent far too long caught between reactionary elites and irresponsible populists.

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