- - Tuesday, December 29, 2015

BUENOS AIRES — During a frenzied first two weeks in office, Argentine President Mauricio Macri has boldly used decree powers to reverse some of his leftist predecessors’ key economic and foreign policies, eager to show that he is in charge after his victory in a close runoff election.

Days after succeeding Cristina Fernandez — who, along with her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, governed the country for more than a dozen years — the center-right former mayor of Buenos Aires has stunned observers by swiftly fulfilling his campaign promise of ending unpopular foreign-currency controls that Ms. Fernandez imposed in 2011.

Mr. Macri evicted the head of the government’s powerful media regulation body, one of a handful of Fernandez-appointed officials who defied the new president’s call to resign. He reversed Argentina’s posture toward Venezuela by pushing Caracas to release political prisoners and tried to circumvent Congress by temporarily appointing two Supreme Court justices.

The flurry of activity is meant to show “gobernabilidad,” or the administration’s ability to govern despite a divided parliament dominated by Ms. Fernandez’s Front for Victory and other Peronists — who also hold much sway in Argentina’s powerful trade unions.

Macri wants to send signals of an active government,” said Mariano de Vedia, a political commentator for the La Nacion daily. “The signal is a strong government.”

After a chaotic transition that culminated in the outgoing president’s refusal to attend her successor’s inauguration, Mr. Macri took pains to differentiate his style from the abrasiveness that characterized Ms. Fernandez‘s. He kicked off his presidency by holding consultations with his election rivals and governors of all political stripes.

“A new time has come: a time of dialogue, of respect and of teamwork,” Mr. Macri told lawmakers in his inaugural address. “With irrational fights, nobody wins; with agreement, we all win.”

In a domestic adaptation of Theodore Roosevelt’s “big stick” approach, though, the soft-spoken Mr. Macri has not shied away from the liberal use of “necessity and urgency decrees,” which give him largely unchecked powers during a congressional recess that lasts until March.

Mr. Macri’s show of strength is preemptive, Mr. de Vedia said, noting that the president is well aware of the fate of his non-Peronist predecessors, none of whom was able to complete his respective term since the end of Argentina’s return to democracy in 1983.

After besting Ms. Fernandez’s hand-picked heir by a margin of less than 3 percentage points in the Nov. 22 runoff, Mr. Macri needs to quickly lift his approval numbers to make opponents think twice about attempts to debilitate his administration, said Joaquin Morales Sola, an influential columnist and television host.

“The Peronist movement never takes on something that is popular,” Mr. Morales Sola said.

So far, Mr. Macri’s gamble seems to be paying off: In two opinion surveys published Saturday by Clarin, the country’s largest daily, the new president scored approval ratings above the 60 percent threshold as Argentines seem to feel increasingly hopeful about their economic futures.

Though worries about price increases and the continued devaluation of the peso persist, the smooth end of currency controls and a renewed influx of foreign investments have encouraged citizens.

“In the economic field, he has made a 180-degree turn,” Mr. Morales Sola said of Mr. Macri.

Yet “among common people, I believe there is a climate of tranquility,” Mr. de Vedia added.

Mr. Macri’s political honeymoon, however, may be over once lawmakers are back in session in March. Unlike Ms. Fernandez, he will not be able to count on Congress to rubber-stamp his proposals.

But the president might well benefit from other attributes that similarly distinguish him from his predecessor — such as his willingness to negotiate and acknowledge errors, Mr. Morales Sola said.

Mr. Macri’s challengers in Congress are numerically strong but also fractured — a mix that presents a contingency for Mr. Macri, who now needs a strong opposition leader to enforce potential deals reached with his administration, the commentator said.

“It’s is a void that presents difficulties primarily for Macri,” Mr. Morales Sola said.

The new presidential style, meanwhile, was on display in both action and reaction two weeks ago, when Mr. Macri’s attempt to use recess appointments to fill two Supreme Court vacancies triggered widespread backlash even among the president’s most loyal supporters.

“To challenge [the Peronist-controlled Congress] in this way is not good politics,” Mr. Morales Sola said. “It’s a grave political error.”

But by week’s end, Mr. Macri acknowledged the outcry by subtly noting that his focus was on other issues, anyway.

“Without backing off,” Mr. de Vedia said, the president was willing to accept a mistake — and in tone and substance, again marked a departure from the Kirchner era.

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