Argentine Political Outlook (Feb-25-19)
Feb-25-19, by Rosendo Fraga

1. President Macri delivers his fourth opening speech of the ordinary sessions of Congress on March 1. Historically, it is the most important presidential address in institutional terms and is the last of the Macri Administration that ends on December 10. In 2016, he stated that the national unity, zero poverty and the fight against drug trafficking were going to be the central goals of his government. Three years later - last year - he opened the debate on abortion and gender-based policies. This year, he will give relevance to the issue of public security, one of the pillars of his electoral campaign. He will announce that he will submit the draft of the new Criminal Code, which includes harsher penalties and a lower criminal responsibility age, before Congress. The candidacy of the Buenos Aires Minister of Security (Ritondo) as first candidate as congress member in the province, to replace Emilio Monzó as President of the Lower House and the possibility that the Minister of National Security (Bullrich) also runs, are electoral steps in the same direction. Macri will demand that Congress approve the "asset recovery" emergency decree, which allows the auctioning of the assets of those accused for corruption and drug trafficking crimes. The corruption of Kirchnerism is the other pillar of the official campaign. The economy will not be a central theme and he will reiterate what has been said from India: "we are surfing a storm aftermath well". The government admits that this is a parliamentary year when few laws will be passed. (2018 recorded the lowest approval of laws since the beginning of Alfonsin's government). The new Criminal Code and labor formalization- dropped labor reform bill - will be the priorities. 

2. The alignment of Cambiemos with the political and electoral strategy of the Administration faces more difficulties than expected. After the defeat of the PRO in La Pampa against the Radical Party, Macrism removed its candidate in Santa Fe (Angelini) to support the Radical candidate instead. (In a dozen provinces, the PRO has accepted that the candidate for Governor be from the UCR in exchange for having candidates for national legislators). But it has had difficulties to reach an agreement in the open primaries for the Mayoralty candidacy in Rosario. This has been in Córdoba, where Radicalism has strongly ignored the President's directive. Against its will, there will be a primary election between a "pure" radical candidate (Mestre, mayor of the provincial capital) and another candidate supported by the PRO and Luis Juez' party (Negri). It is a primary election with voluntary vote where the territorial control weighs -Radicalism in this province (most of the Cambiemos mayors in Cordoba are radical, including that of the Capital city). But it is at the national level, where the challenge is clearer, as radical leaders close to the PRO (Sanz and Nosiglia) as critics (Alfonsin and Storani) claim that the party presents a candidate to compete with Macri in the open primaries (Lousteau). Macri is considering whether he accepts it or not. There are radical leaders who demand that the candidate for Vice President and the Buenos Aires Vice-governor of Cambiemos should be from the radical party. On the other hand, Durán Barba - supported by Bullrich - says that if Cristina wins, she will create front groups like in Venezuela. 

3. From India, Macri questioned Peronism, accusing it of getting united to cover up corruption, at a time when the main opposition party is signaling unity. Peronism (governors), Kirchnerism and Massism are converging in several provinces in agreements to win the provincial elections and also in the Buenos Aires province districts. They have achieved it in a dozen provinces. In the decisive province of Buenos Aires, the Province PJ held a meeting in La Matanza on February 21 to set it in motion. The candidate for governor driven by Cristina (Kicillof) was not present, to not irritate the mayors. They praised the former President, but made it clear that the candidate for Governor will be one of them. The possibility of a slate headed by the Mayor of Lomas de Zamora (Insaurralde) seconded by Massa's wife (Malena) was considered. The postponement of the start of the first corruption trial against Cristina (from the end of March to the end of May) seems to agree with the government's strategy aimed at "politically using" these trials, nearer the open primaries. Meanwhile, Roberto Lavagna continues to receive signals of support within non K Peronism. He met with Massa for four hours to analyze the political and economic situation. He was in San Juan in a meeting called by Governor Uñac, where other Peronist governors participated. While the "Peronist wing" moves independently, as shown by Duhalde, seeking to meet with Cristina and Lousteau based on the candidacy of the former Minister of Economy, the "progressive wing" led by the Socialist Governor of Santa Fe (Lifshitz) calls Margarita Stolbizer and other center-left leaders to join a front that also drives him as a candidate for President. Cristina, for her part, calls a great opposition front that goes beyond Peronism to include the left. 

4. Meanwhile, the Court, the social conflictivity and the resumed abortion debate are immediate government concerns in the short term. This week the highest instance court will define the beginning of the delayed schedule of the key sentences to be passed in the next weeks. The ruling that ordered the payment to the province of San Luis of 15 bn pesos owed to it, sets the precedent for resolving others such as Santa Fe's, by an amount four times higher. After meeting with the mission of the IMF, the CGT revealed that it is considering the possibility of a general strike for March, demanded by both the combative trade unionism and social movements. This week, both the vegetable farmers and the meetings of neighbors that claim against the increase in bills, will march towards Plaza de Mayo. But the teachers' salary conflict is the most complex problem in the immediate term. Only four out of twenty-four provinces have agreed on teacher salaries, including Santiago del Estero, which granted a 40% increase. The Buenos Aires government this week has a new meeting with the teachers' unions to reach an agreement that allows the start of school classes in the first week of March, something that does not seem easy. Last week, a new pro-abortion "green hanky" protest took place in several cities of the country's provinces and will be held again on March 8, on Women's day, demanding that the Lower House resumes the discussion on the bill rejected by the Senate. At the same time, the anti-abortion sectors claimed on the ruling party for having removed the candidacy of an anti-abortion lawyer (Vitolo), as Argentine representative for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IHRC). 

6. To conclude

a) Macri is expected to pronounce his opening address for the ordinary sessions of Congress with the emphasis on the reform of the Criminal Code, the asset recovery decree and labor formalization. 

b)  He will try to reach consensus with the Radical Party so that there is no competition between the PRO and the UCR in the provinces and at national level, something that will not be easy. 

c)  Peronism moves towards unity in the provinces (pro-Ks, Peronists and pro-Massa) but at the same time signs of support to Lavagna -who is far from Ks- are observed. 

d)  For the Administration, the Court, the social conflicts and the resumed abortion controversy are relevant problems in the short term.