- - Monday, October 23, 2017

Buenos Aires | Emboldened by a surprisingly decisive victory in Sunday’s midterm elections, President Mauricio Macri on Monday urged his country to “not be afraid” of far-reaching reforms so wide-ranging the local media dubbed them Argentina’s “Moncloa Pact” — a nod to the 1978 multi-party deal that revamped Spain after the end of the Franco regime.

Mr. Macri will host the governors of Argentina’s provinces along with lawmakers, business and labor leaders and Supreme Court justices for a high-stakes summit early next week, administration officials said. Without providing details, the center-right president had hinted in the morning that an ambitious reform fiscal and institutional reform package would likely dominate the remaining two years of his term.

“We have decided to be a modern country that integrates itself in the world,” Mr. Macri said. “That means that we are entering a phase of permanent reform; Argentina must not stop and must not be afraid of reforms.”

Mr. Macri’s confident push comes on the heels of a campaign in which his most visceral foes — the populist Citizens United bloc surrounding leftist former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner — had never tired of warning of the brutal “austerity” she said he planned to impose on Argentines, while Mr. Macri’s allies had largely limited themselves to vague slogans about continued “change.”

But given the triumph of the president’s Cambiemos coalition in 13 out 24 districts, including Buenos Aires Province, where his former education minister bested Ms. Fernandez in a key Senate race, Mr. Macri is now acting as if any such restraint is now unnecessary.

Still, Mr. Macri acknowledged that he felt the pain of citizens who saw consumer and utility prices rise precipitously ever since he cut subsidies and liberalized the foreign-currency market early on in his presidency.

“For whomever this whole process has been hard, I want to say that I’m aware, and I never tricked you,” he said. “This a long road, [but] a road that takes us to a more just society.”

Reform agenda

Since his inauguration in December 2015, Mr. Macri, a former businessman and longtime mayor of the Argentine capital, has become increasingly skilled at weighing the treacherous ins and outs of national politics, a skill that will come in handy since he still lacks a majority in Congress even after Sunday’s election, said Facundo Cruz, a political scientist at the University of Buenos Aires.

“One can propose a reform agenda, but those reforms will have to be implemented by Congress,” Mr. Cruz said. So the president would likely opt to “present the entire package [now and later] and choose with whom to negotiate each individual [reform].”

That approach, he noted, stands in sharp contrast to the autocratic style championed Ms. Fernandez, Mr. Macri’s predecessor, who due to Argentina’s complex electoral system managed to secure one of three senatorial seats for Buenos Aires Province despite her second-place finish.

At a Sunday night campaign really, the former president seemed in denial of her four-point defeat, hinting only that her bloc had “fallen short.” In a trademark Fernandez speech to supporters, she failed to congratulate her winning rival in the race and instead immediately claimed leadership of a splintered opposition.

“Citizens United has come to stay and will be the basis of building an alternative to this government,” said Ms. Fernandez, who with her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, dominated the Argentine political scene for more than a decade before she stepped down in 2015.

But despite her nominal prerogative as head of the second biggest vote-getting bloc, the two-term president-turned-senator will have a hard time styling herself as Mr. Macri’s primary challenger, Mr. Cruz said.

“Not only did nobody buy [her claim to the leadership], but the political scene didn’t take her very seriously,” he said. “Votes only last one election,” and it’s likely Ms. Fernandez will be increasingly sidelined as others within the larger opposition Peronist movement are jockeying for top spots ahead of the 2019 presidential election.

Mr. Macri refused to speculate on whether Sunday’s vote altered his own plans for a second term, saying his priority was his reform agenda.

“There’s time,” he told reporters Monday, “two years and a few wonderful months to do the greatest possible amount of the things we’ve been talking about.”

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