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Argentina Elects Pro-Business President; Big Change Expected

Argentina Elects Pro-Business President; Big Change Expected
(Dollar Photo Club)

Monday, 23 November 2015 09:27 AM

Argentina voted for deep change on Sunday, electing the center-right opposition leader Mauricio Macri to be president in a decisive end to 12 years of leftist populism, setting the stage for economic liberalization, a warming of relations with the U.S. and political reverberations across Latin America.

The candidate of the ruling party, Daniel Scioli, conceded defeat and called Macri to congratulate him. With more than 98 percent of the ballots counted, Macri had 51.5 percent, while Scioli followed with 48.5 percent, according to the National Electoral Council.

At Macri’s headquarters late on Sunday, cumbia music boomed, balloons were released and supporters danced and cheered for "Macri Presidente." Ernesto Sanz, a lawmaker and ally, said, "Argentina won’t be the same starting tonight."

“A wonderful new stage begins for Argentina," Macri told his supporters in his victory speech.

The 56-year-old mayor of Buenos Aires is a wealthy businessman and former head of one of the country’s most popular soccer teams. He has promised to lift currency controls and negotiate with hedge fund creditors to boost investor confidence amid the lowest reserves in nine years. He will also focus on cutting inflation, fixing the largest fiscal deficit in 30 years and luring back international investment dollars.

In anticipation of a Macri victory, bond yields fell to an eight-year low and the local stock market rallied to a record high. The rally continued after the vote. The benchmark securities due in 2033 gained to a price — which includes interest owed since last year’s default — of 114 cents on the dollar, an eight-year high. The Global X MSCI Argentina ETF rose 0.5 percent in German trading.

'Savage Capitalism’

Scioli and his supporters have warned that such policies, which they dismiss as "savage capitalism," will erode vital social welfare programs on which the poor depend and create an economy that caters to the rich. Macri will govern with a minority in both houses of Congress, although he is bolstered by the surprise capture of Buenos Aires province in last month’s election.

He also will have the support of many of the country’s 32 million voters — 81 percent of them took part on Sunday — who say they are tired of the rule of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner which they consider often dishonest.

"The government is constantly saying we live in paradise," said Santiago Canedo, 28, a law student who voted for Macri. "They say one thing and then do the next. I’m optimistic that things will change."

Argentina, under Fernandez and her deceased husband Nestor Kirchner for the past dozen years, has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other leftists in the region, including the Castro brothers in Cuba, Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. Macri calls his approach the opposite of Venezuela’s "21st century socialism": "21st century development." He has threatened to have Venezuela ousted from regional bodies over its anti-democratic policies and human rights abuses.

Regional Swing?

Those countries, as well as Brazil, rode a wave of commodity price highs — in oil, corn, soybeans — leading to a string of leftist victories. They are now suffering from the collapse of those prices and Macri’s victory in South America’s second largest economy could augur a rightward regional swing, including stepped-up pressure to impeach President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil. Legislative elections are due in Venezuela on Dec. 6 and the opposition is leading in all polls.

Fernandez, who will hand over power to Macri on Dec. 10, has used a number of levers to promote her policies, including seizing pension fund assets and the nation’s largest energy company while increasing welfare programs and battling U.S. hedge funds over defaulted debt.

There is skepticism in some quarters about Macri’s ability to govern. This is because he will not have a congressional majority and because he is not from the Peronist movement which has, in effect, ruled Argentina for most of the past seven decades using populist tactics of both right and left. One result of this election will be a crisis within Peronism as the movement charts its next moves.

Painful Changes

"The first months, as a way of showing what’s to come, are going to be very important to assuage some sectors that have doubts over Macri’s capacity to govern," observed Lorena Moscovich, a political scientist at the University of San Andres in Buenos Aires.

She said he needed to move quickly during his honeymoon period to push through the most painful changes. No non-Peronist has finished his term in office since the movement was founded in the 1940s by Juan Peron.

Scioli, who during his campaign pledged to maintain several of Kirchner’s policies, won the first round on Oct. 25 with 37 percent to Macri’s 34 percent. But he had been expected to do far better, with many forecasting he would take the presidency with the 10-percent spread required by law to avoid a runoff. Instead, Macri nipped at Scioli’s heels and then stole the momentum that sent him to the presidential palace known as the Casa Rosada, or pink house.

Investors continued to express enthusiasm about Argentina’s economic future.

"It’s probably the most obvious country in the world to make the transformation from where it is to where it could be to reach its potential with the least amount of struggle," remarked Tim Love, investment director of GAM, an asset management firm. "You’ve got it all and you’ve got a working democracy. This is a lay-up compared to the other frontier markets I deal with in the world."

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Argentina voted for deep change on Sunday, electing the center-right opposition leader Mauricio Macri to be president in a decisive end to 12 years of leftist populism, setting the stage for economic liberalization, a warming of relations with the U.S. and political...
argentina, business, election, economy
Monday, 23 November 2015 09:27 AM
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