June 16, 2019
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Macri chooses opposition leader in Senate as vice-presidential candidate

Buenos Aires, Jun 11 (efe-epa).- The Argentinian president announced Tuesday that the Peronist Miguel Angel Pichetto, leader of the largest opposition bloc in the Senate, will be his running mate in the elections in October, when he will be seeking re-election.

Mauricio Macri made the surprise announcement on Twitter on the eve of the deadline for parties to present to the electoral court their alliances for the primaries on Aug.11, in which citizens will choose the list of candidates of each coalition that is qualified to contest the Oct. 27 elections.

The president described 68-year-old Pichetto, who has been a senator since 2001, as a "statesman" who during the "government's difficult years" was known and respected for his "commitment to the country and the institutions."

"It is President Macri who decided to call me and make a much broader political support base," Pichetto said in a press conference in the senate, in which he announced that he will relinquish the presidency of the Peronist majority in the senate, with 18 members, and the largest opposition bloc.

The selection comes as a surprise as Macri - whose popularity ratings have taken a big hit in the polls due to the economic recession that has been affecting the country for a year - was expected to choose a member of the Radical Civic Union (UCR).

That party, the oldest in Argentina, has been part of the Cambiemos alliance - along with Civic Coalition ARI (CC-ARI) and Republican Proposal (Pro) - with which Macri came to power in 2015 after more than a decade of the Peronist government of Nestor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernandez (2007-2015), currently a senator.

UCR President Alfredo Cornejo welcomed Macri's announcement, saying "any expansion of the coalition is positive" while CC-ARI leader Elisa Carrio said that Pichetto will "add governance" to Cambiemos.

Current Vice-President Gabriela Michetti - of Macri's party - also welcomed the news, describing the Peronist leader as a politician "who has always sought consensus" and adding that he "will contribute a lot" to the country.

It remains to be seen if any sector of the UCR decides now to submit a list of its own to compete with that of Macri-Pichetto in the primaries.

The senator, one of the biggest critics of the Kirchner administrations and who a few weeks ago presented his presidential candidacy from the Alternativa Federal, comprising Peronists disenchanted by 'Cristinismo,' confessed that he immediately said yes to Macri.

This is due to the "daunting challenge" Argentina faces of moving to a path of "growth, hope and expectations of human reconstruction and national unity", and confessed that he shares a "capitalist view" with the government.

Pichetto praised the Macri administration for its "very intelligent" international policy to insert the country into the world and called for distancing Argentina from "extreme situations" which will serve to isolate it as was in ‘kirchnerism’, and emphasized that "this is the way" to prevent "a return of the past."

"Argentina is rebuilding a party system where the ideological thought and the country’s gaze and the major themes are those that define and, undoubtedly, unite wills," said Cambiemos' new ally, who began his political career as a councilor in a municipality in the province of Rio Negro in 1983.

After that, he was mayor (1985-1987), provincial legislator between 1987 and 1993 and, from that year, a national lawmaker until being elected senator..

Since Macri's arrival in power, the bloc led by Pichetto has backed several laws proposed by the president, including one in 2016 to allow payment to the so-called "vulture funds."

But there have also been instances when he has refused to back the government, such as in the impeachment of Cristina Fernandez, ordered by a judge, to allow her to be arrested on corruption charges.

"We, Argentinians, face a historic opportunity to consolidate our democracy. In the upcoming elections, we will decide whether we want to live in a republic or return to a populist authoritarianism," Macri said in his message, and called for "building agreements with great generosity and patriotism."

Macri's announcement of his choice of running mate comes less than a month after Fernandez's surprise announcement of her candidacy for vice president, with her former chief of staff chief Alberto Fernandez as a presidential candidate, backed by the historic Peronist Justicialist Party.

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Related content

Macri and Fernandez, rival leaders of a divided Argentina, shake up politics

Natalia Kidd

Buenos Aires, Jun 11 (efe-epa).- Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, and his ideological opponent and predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, have shaken up the electoral landscape with surprising alliances that have swallowed up political alternatives ahead of presidential elections being held this year.

One month after Fernandez, in power from 2007 to 2015, triggered political earthquake by announcing that she would run for vice president in a formation headed by Alberto Fernandez, one of her former cabinet chiefs, Macri made his own move.

Just like his bitter rival, the incumbent took to social media to announce his campaign running mate: Miguel Angel Pichetto, a Peronist who is the leader of the largest opposition block in the Senate.

Until Tuesday, Pichetto had been one of the mainstays of the Federal Alternative, a group that is composed of Peronist leaders who have become disenchanted with Kirchnerism and which has practically imploded after the surprising moves made by Macri and Fernandez.

“This move by Macri and Cristina, the two leaders of the “crack” within Argentine society, has contained the rest of the field, suffocating their chances to try different alternatives”, political analyst, Jorge Arias, of think tank Polilat, told EFE.

Andres Gilio, director of the think tank Opina Argentina, agrees that both Macri and Fernandez have chosen to pursue votes from the political center, represented by Federal Alternative.

“They scavenged the votes”, Gilio said.

Just like in a chess match, the former president and current Senator, Fernandez made a masterful move in choosing someone with the capacity for dialogue and persuasion with sectors that had been bruised by Kirchnerism.

She approached Sergio Massa, her former cabinet chief, who had distanced himself but who now is on the verge of sealing an electoral alliance with her.

“This pushes Massa further towards Kirchnerism”, Gilio said.

Massa was another of the pillars of the increasingly irrelevant Federal Alternative, which now can only count on the leadership of the governor of the northern province of Salta, Juan Manuel Urtubey.

According to Arias, Fernandez’ move means “the government started panicking when it saw that it was losing reliable segments of the voter landscape, and it started to try to gather support from smaller sectors that could improve Macri’s chances”.

The conservative “Propuesta Republicana” (Pro) led by Macri arrived at the Casa Rosada as part of the front “Cambiemos”, which was also comprised of the Coalicion Civica (Civic Coalition) and the Union Civica Radical (Radical Civic Union).

Strong opposition to Macri’s policies began to arise at the heart of the UCR, but those voices were appeased they chose to remain within the coalition in the hopes that the president would choose a radical running mate.

That option was roundly rejected with Tuesday’s election of Pichetto, which has left more the radical elements on the margins.

Pichetto’s nomination has also had an impact within Pro, although party verticalism will surely limit voices that go against the Peronist leader, considered a controversial figure by Macri supporters after the Peronist leader blocked a Senate request to lift the parliamentary immunity, Cristina Fernandez, who was implicated in several corruption cases.

“Pichetto is another person who was left with very few better options other than surrender to Macri, someone he was supposed to be trying to fight. It’s a sad ending”, Arias said.

Everything is geared to an election landscape that will be more polarized than ever.

Although doubts remain over whether the new landscape could eventually benefit one of the few candidates who are left in the middle ground, such as Peronist Roberto Lavagna, Economy minister between 2002 and 2005.

“Maybe Lavagna will be the one who ends up capitalizing on both moves. Being the only one left in the center could end up benefiting him, that remains to be seen", Gilio said.

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