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21.06 23 Nov 2015


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On Sunday evening, Argentina elected Mauricio Macri as president. A centre-right candidate, he represents a turn away from the left after over a decade in power. 

Given that the country suffered an economic collapse in 2001, the shift away from Peronists Nestor Kirchner and the incumbent Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner who have been in charge since is a more significant one than it initially may seem.

Argentina's economy has long been problematic; a long depression lasting from the late 1970s to the early '90s was followed by a short period of growth before another collapse, accompanied by riots on the streets in 2001 as Fernando de Rua, the last non-Peronist president, resigned.

The election of Macri swings the country to the other end of the political spectrum altogether, however. 

Macri comes from one of the wealthiest families in Argentina; he is the son of the Italian-born Francisco Macri, whose Grupo Macri conglomerate has a range of interests, including waste management, construction, cars and cinema. That, couples with a series of extraordinary turns, has meant that his life up to this point has been anything but typical. 

From prestigious schools both at home and abroad (including a stint at Columbia University), he was the target of a kidnapping plot in 1991 by a gang of officers from the Argentine Federal Police. He was eventually released after 12 days, following the payment of a ransom believed to be in the region of seven million dollars.

Macri has since stated that his desire to get involved in politics began with that kidnapping. While his treatment by his captors was described as "always friendly", he didn't believe there was a political motive behind it and that "the conversations [with them] were more economically driven". 

Four years later, he became the president of one of the most iconic institutions in Argentina: Boca Juniors football club. His time in charge saw the club enjoy plenty of success thanks to a squad that included players such as Diego Maradona, Juan Roman Riquelme and Claudio Caniggia, as they went about claiming the highly coveted Copa Libertadores trophy four times. 

Image: DANIEL MUZIO / AP/Press Association Images

In 2003, he began his political career by forming the Compromise for the Future (Compromiso para el Cambio, CPC) party, which allowed him a platform to run for mayor of Buenos Aires, a position which is also known as Chief of Government of Buenos Aires, given the city's status as an autonomous region. Although he put in an impressive performance in which he won the first round of the elections, he lost the runoff to Aníbal Ibarra, who had the backing of then president Nestor Kirchner. 

That wasn't enough to discourage him from a life in politics however, as he reappeared in 2005, with a new party formed out of an alliance with Ricardo López Murphy of Recreate for Growth (Recrear para el Crecimiento, Recrear) known as Republican Proposal (Propuesta Republicana, Pro). There, he won a seat in the lower house of the Argentine legislature, the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados de la Nación) as the representative from Buenos Aires. 

With that win under his belt, he once again ran for mayor in the capital in 2007, and this time came out on top despite his opponent, Daniel Filmus, once again having the backing of Kirchner. This proved to be a hugely important win for Macri, and eventually lead to him becoming the de facto leader of the opposition as he formed an alliance with a number of different parties known as the Unión-Pro. 

In 2009, they contested the national elections and although they didn't field a candidate in every constituency, they claimed another big victory against the Peronists when Francisco de Narváez, their candidate for congress in Buenos Aires, beat former president Nestor Kirchner to the seat. 

It wasn't all success for Macri, however, as he was caught up in a wiretapping and spying scandal. Macri had brought in an independent police force in the capital, but chose Jorge "Fino" Palacios to head it, who had been connected with an obstruction of the investigation into the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA; a Jewish community center) in 1994, which killed 85 people. 

People hold up pictures of the victims of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center on the 21st anniversary of the terror attack in Buenos Aires. Image: Victor R. Caivano / AP/Press Association Images

Sergio Bernstein, a Jewish community leader who had opposed the appointment of Palacios, claimed in court that he was under illegal surveillance by the police in the capital, and a subsequent investigation found that to be true. Both Palacios and his successor, Osvaldo Palacios Chamorro, were found guilty, and the extent of the spying was later revealed to have included other members of Macri's party, as well as his brother-in-law. Macri himself was eventually cleared of charges in 2014. 

Despite considering a Presidential bid in 2011, only to be discouraged by poll numbers that projected an easy win for Cristina Fernandez de Krichner, he made a push for the office this time around. Only a few months ago, he appeared to be an outsider for the hotseat against Daniel Scioli of the Peronist Front for Victory party (Frente para la victoria, FPV). 

However, a coalition between his Pro party, the Radical Civil Union (Unión Cívica Radical, UCR) and the Civic Coalition (Coalición Civica, CC) under the name of Let's Change (Cambiemos) saw a surge in support, pushing Scioli aside and eventually electing him to the famous Casa Rosada of the presidency with 51.5% of the vote. 

Speaking in the wake of his victory, Macri talked of a "change of an era", and looks set to move quickly to change the policies of the left that were put in place over a decade of Peronist rule.

Image: Ricardo Mazalan / AP/Press Association Images

His campaign was run very much on being the antidote to the Kirchner regime that had been in charge for so long, as he talked of openness and accountability. 

He has already spoken of tearing up Argentina's memorandum of understanding with Iran, designed to re-open the investigation into the AIMA bombing, something which was accused of being far too vague and largely seen as a victory for Iran. The mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, one the deal's chief critics, caused further damage to Kirchner's reputation in the wake of the agreement.

Macri has also stated that he wants Venezuela excluded from the Mercosur trade alliance over human rights abuses, and these moves would mark a u-turn for the country which under Kirchner had moved closer to Iran, and had aligned itself with other leftist countries in Latin America, chiefly Venezuela.

With inflation at around 30%, and a massive fiscal deficit to deal with, his economic policies will perhaps represent the most drastic shift for the country. Although he hasn't been too specific on what cuts await the Argentine public, there will more than likely be an end to price controls in supermarkets, an attempt to build ties with the United States, a focus on encouraging foreign investment and an attempt to bring the IMF back to the table. Most of those adjustments would mean that the Argentine people would certainly feel the impact of the changes in their wallets, at least in the short term.

The difficulty for Macri could come in forcing these moves through congress, where the Peronists and Kirchner still have plenty of influence, but his assertion that "we need to be in the world" suggests dramatic changes are set to come sooner rather than later in Argentina.


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