Macri Malaise: The Economy Will Drive Argentina's Election

Inflation and recession are doing little to bridge the South American nation's deep political divide.

A sticker on the back of a marcher's jeans reads 'live under your own rules' and he carries a condom in his back pocket during the 17th annual gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual pride festival and march in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Argentine President Mauricio Macri
Eduardo van der Kooy


BUENOS AIRES — What does the future hold for a society where more than two-thirds of voters are "against" rather than "for" any particular side?

That's the question facing Argentina right now, where people not only have serious concerns about President Mauricio Macri and his Cambiemos ("Let's Change") coalition, but are also wary of the opposition Peronists and their standard bearer, ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015), who preceded Macri and may try to succeed him.

Whoever leads Argentina after this year's general elections, on Oct. 27, will in any case take over a country that is weakened socially, economically and institutionally. And yet few politicians seem concerned with the post-electoral scenario for now. Indeed, suggestions by one former finance minister, Roberto Lavagna, on forming a broad front to confront national problems were quickly dismissed, even among his former allies the Peronists, also known as the Justicialist Party, Argentina's historic social-democratic movement.

The Macri government itself is stagnant.

Argentinians, in other words, remain deeply polarized. Polls also suggest that nearly 25% of voters would back third-party candidates like Lavagna (a Peronist until 2006), Sergio Massa (another former Peronist who formed the Renovating Front in 2013), and Salta governor Juan Manuel Urtubey. But those are the combined numbers for the three possible contenders. Individually, their poll numbers are far smaller.

The Macri government itself is stagnant. Critics accuse it of lacking imagination and management skills in a slowed economy. It has been keen so far to extract political capital from Mrs. Kirchner's legal troubles relating to suspected corruption in her presidency, though these will not solve the bigger problem of the economy.

The administration is faring poorly, in other words, as recession takes its toll on the voting public. This is causing unrest inside Cambiemos and tensions with Macri's centrist coalition partners, the Radicals. They say revelations on corruption under the Kirchner presidency are no longer yielding the political returns they were meant to have. This is in part because the government has left the affair entirely in the hands of a judiciary in the grip of intrigues and infiltrations. Mrs Kirchner's supporters have in turn proved deft at spreading the idea that corruption is pervasive, not limited to Peronists or the Kirchner administrations.

Recent polls have reflected the increasingly irrelevance of corruption as a voter concern. Consultants Isonomía and Aresco found that the biggest concern among respondents is inflation, followed by rising utility costs and crime. Fear of unemployment comes next, and only then do people cite corruption.

The economy remains crucial for now.

This may prove alarming to Cambiemos in terms of electoral prospects, and a boon for the Peronists, who have traditionally touted themselves as the party of the poor. For them, worsening economic conditions always trump concerns over institutional integrity and public ethics. For some time now no prominent Peronist has made declarations on corruption under the last two presidents, Néstor (2003-2007) and Cristina Kirchner. That could change when Mrs Kirchner appears in court in May for money-laundering charges relating to her presidency.

The economy remains crucial for now. It has fed tensions in the presidential coalition as Radicals urge a review of utility price rises and for subsidies for small and medium businesses. Another problem is that Macri has decided on adjustment policies without duly consulting with the Radicals. It is as if Macri both does and doesn't understand the meaning or purpose of a coalition, and tensions are particularly felt at electoral times. This is illustrated in the bungled coordination of the alliance's candidates for elections set for May in the province of Córdoba, which may prove a key indicator of Macri's chances in October.

To try to remedy the economic situation, the government has issued sharp rate hikes to bolster the peso against the dollar. But that's just sent the country's productive sector into intensive care. Internal concerns and international volatility prompt people to buy U.S. dollars, and every time it jumps in Argentina, it feeds an inflation rate that is increasingly looking uncheckable. The consensus now is that rising prices have become the main cause of the public's bad mood.

And unless inflation comes down, the president's electoral prospects will. For now, the two political poles each have a negative to cling to: for Macri, it is the vile cloud of corruption hovering around Kirchner, and for the Peronists, inflation and a recession caused only partly by austerity policies. But could either of these prove decisive in taking one or another side toward electoral victory later this year?

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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