Is it clever, or worth, fighting against Peronism?

Julio Burdman


Macri’s gestures of authority may hurt him down the line


After “transition-gate,” in which Mauricio Macri decided to litigate the handover ceremony and seize the presidential baton and sash from the hands of Federico Pinedo, it looked like a new doctrine had been born which would be the new government’s first steps: the gestures of authority.


According to this doctrine, Macri’s government is a weak one, based on a small party with little legislative support — and therefore its behaviour should abound in demonstrations of power. The Argentine presidency enjoys many constitutional powers and that may offer inhabitants of the Casa Rosada the illusion that they can rule alone, bypassing Congress and state bureaucracy. But that is not true. Sooner or later, the seemingly strong president must acknowledge that he or she is not alone: institutions are at the heart of the political system, and the president must live with them.


The need to show strength is understandable: if both the electorate and the financial markets believe that you are a weak president, your whole government will lack credibility. Macri doesn’t believe in politics but he was trained as a businessman and he knows that leadership is built on images and perceptions.


Notwithstanding all that, if you decide to govern through gestures of authority, you should probably engage in battles. And in that case, you should choose wisely and select those easy battles that you are going to win. The new government gathers together undoubted sources of power and wants to prove it to the Peronists.


Macri avoided the Peronist Senate when he named two Supreme Court judges using an executive decree. And he showed that he is capable of reviewing many decisions made by the outgoing Kirchnerite government with the broad Executive Decree 254/2015, through which the new government can alter all personnel appointments made in the last three years.


The removal of Martín Sabbatella — who is not a Peronist and was not defended by Peronist leaders — also showed that the new government may modify legislative moves passed by the outgoing one. The president also tried to force through Pablo Tonelli’s nomination and found the limits of the Supreme Court. And the roof set for wage negotiations says that the Peronist unions won’t enjoy the privileges of the past.


HEAVY SCRUTINY


The announced audits for different ministries or the very National Congress (clashing with Mr Norberto Di Prospero himself, a key person if legislative power is to function well), together with the empowerment of Laura Alonso and the new Anti-Corruption Office, are more signs that both the previous national and provincial Peronist administrations will be under heavy scrutiny. And there is more coming.


This is not just a process of “deKirchnerization” of the State, as some journalist said — this set of decisions now affects the Peronist leadership in a whole.


The biggest upcoming problem is that Mauricio Macri’s administration is going to need Peronists to govern. It is clear by now that he is not going for a coalition government with old-school politicians. Many believed that his strategy was to reach out to selective partners and cut agreements with the Peronist opposition that controls Congress and most of the provinces. Now people are wondering if that is what Macri is really doing.


Some PRO leaders say that his offensive against Peronism is a strategy to soften his big opponent. That is, to show them how strong he is, in order to negotiate effectively with them after. Other related hypotheses analyze Macri’s tough behaviour and see it as a way to divide Peronism, working on the assumption that its Kirchnerite wing will fight the new government’s decisions and other, more moderate Peronist wings will differentiate between them. Is Macri attempting to provoke a reaction from former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who has silenced herself? Many unanswered questions.


But the main issue is: is it worth fighting Peronism rather than negotiating with it? Perhaps the idea that the big opposition political party should be “disciplined,” is not one of the Let’s Change government’s best strategies? Besides the risk of infuriating your potential ally, the new hard-handed Mauricio Macri might end up paying the cost of betraying his promises of a consensual and peacemaking government, the one that attracted so many voters in the runoff.


Publicado en Buenos Aires Herald el 30 de diciembre de 2015. Original aquí.