Argentine Political Outlook (Feb-14-17)
Feb-14-17 - by Rosendo Fraga

1. Foreign policy has been at the center of the political scene in the past week, as the President seeks to reinforce a leading role. The deepening of relations with the region has been the most relevant point. With President Temer the bilateral relationship has been promoted, and the Mercosur strategy is being redefined, outlining a full and comprehensive roadmap for it. Five days later, he met with the Chilean President on the occasion of the Bicentenary of the Battle of Chacabuco. The search for a message with political impact to bring Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance together put bilateral relations and in particular the FTA talks agreed in December, on a back seat. Between the two meetings, Macri had a telephone conversation with Peña Nieto, expressing solidarity for the Wall dispute, but without advancing in the response to the FTA proposed by the Mexican President in August when he visited the country. The trip to Spain in the last week of February implies giving priority to the relationship with Europe and then he will visit China - the five most important public works of 2017 are funded by this country - and will also be in Japan. But at the same time, the Argentine President continues to seek dialogue with Trump with some anxiety. This was evidenced by the telephone conversation he had with the US Vice President (Pence) and the efforts this week in Germany by the Argentine foreign affairs minister with the Secretary of State (Tillerson) at a meeting of the foreign affairs ministers of the G20.

2. In the domestic field, the election remains the political priority of the government this year and plans its actions accordingly. On the one hand, the government seeks to organize its own coalition, given that there are problems with the Radical Party in the main districts. In the city of Buenos Aires, the UCR will support Lousteau as the first candidate for Congress, without Cambiemos running for election as such. In Córdoba, the growing differences between the Radical Party and PRO, are accentuated by the good relationship that Macri shows with Peronist Governor Schiaretti. In Santa Fe, the UCR resists breaking the alliance it has with Socialism as claimed by the PRO. In the face of Peronism, the basic strategy is to contribute to its electoral division. In general, the PRO prevails today in the idea that Macri agrees to polarize with Cristina in this election and that for that reason it will try to prevent in the justice judicial measures from impeding it. Meanwhile the Buenos Aires Peronism meets on Saturday 18th in Santa Teresita, to promote the electoral unity of the party. The President of the Argentine Federation of Municipalities, who is the mayor of La Matanza, issued a statement requesting the release of Milagro Sala. Today, a candidacy of Cristina - which she will seek - adds to the goal of dividing Peronism.

3. As has been happening since Kirchnerism, the Judiciary is a political battlefield. The ruling party hopes to have 9 of the 13 members of the Council of Magistrates - through negotiations - in order to have a sufficient majority to propose the appointment of judges, their removals and fill 70 vacant positions in the national justice system. But the problem is more complex, because it is finally the Senate, which with two thirds, must approve the proposals of the Council, which leads to an inevitable negotiation with Peronism. While the lawsuits against Cristina Kirchner accelerate simultaneously, the government fails to solve the Arribas case - heard by a questioned judge but likely to agree with the government like Canicoba Corral - and the agreement between the Post and Socma, one of Macri group's companies, beyond the political accusations, will end up being solved by the justice. The first instance ruling that rejected the government's intention for Judge Highton to leave from the Court for turning 75, may be construed as a "limit" set by the Judiciary on the Executive branch in its attempts to renew the judicial system.

4. But it is in the social sphere where the government faces a more difficult situation these days. This week the banking guild is expected to launch a national strike as the metallurgic trade union carries out a protest march for layoffs and suspensions; the Ministry of Welfare will meet this week with the "social movements" (pickets), seeking to avoid the protest they prepare for March 13 - the Pope's appointment anniversary - because of the delay in implementing the social emergency plan. The teachers have called for a national strike for March 6, as no agreement was reached on the salary increase. The CGT for its part carries out a protest demonstration on March 7, which is expected to gather many sectors, complaining against the social situation; it should be added that the construction workers confederation has called a general strike for the end of next month with no fixed date yet, showing their will to negotiate. This week, the government will try to get the Lower House approve the reform of occupational accidents system, claimed by the business sector and which already has half approval by the Senate. This happens after the Kirchnerism failed to stop the emergency decree driven by the Executive branch at the Parliamentary Legal Procedure Commission. Government speculates that an economic improvement this year will cool off social tensions. But at the same time, as this is an electoral year, social players will exert more pressure as the ruling coalition will try to avoid the conflicts which may entail an electoral cost.

5. To conclude:

A) Argentina's foreign policy has been on the spotlight, seeking to promote relations with the region but showing signs of anxiety with Trump.

B) The election is the political priority and the ruling coalition seeks to solve the conflicts within Cambiemos and foster divisions in Peronism, using Cristina for that.

C) The Judiciary remains a political battle field, where the government's advantages are the multiple lawsuits affecting Kirchnerism; but it also faces its own risks.

D) The social sphere appears complex for government in the coming weeks due to the protests by trade unions and social movements, which it will face combining pressure and negotiation.