- Title: Argentines, hurting in the shadow of recession, weigh Macri's plea for patience
- Date: 9th August 2019
- Summary: VARIOUS, CAMPAIGN SIGNS FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE ALBERTO FERNANDEZ VARIOUS, CAMPAIGN SIGN FOR INCUMBENT MAURICIO MACRI
- Embargoed: 23rd August 2019 13:58
- Keywords: Argentina elections primary President Mauricio Macri Alberto Ferandez Cristina Fernandez Peronism poverty
- Location: LAFERRERE, BUENOS AIRES PROVINCE, JOSE LEON SUAREZ, BUENOS AIRES PROVINCE, & BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA / WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES
- City: LAFERRERE, BUENOS AIRES PROVINCE, JOSE LEON SUAREZ, BUENOS AIRES PROVINCE, & BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA / WASHINGTON, DC, UNITED STATES
- Country: Argentina
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting,Editors' Choice
- Reuters ID: LVA004ARHX83R
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Argentina's opposition have their sights set on voters like Alfredo Espinoza, 55, a recently laid-off metals worker from the edge of Buenos Aires, looking to tap into rising hardship to rally supporters and win over swing voters disenchanted by President Mauricio Macri.
Espinoza lost his job in April and now scrapes a living selling barbecued steak and local "choripan" sausage sandwiches beside the road in the suburban area of Jose Leon Suarez, part of a densely populated ring around the capital.
His plight, and that of others hit by a deep recession, rising unemployment and inflation is giving ammunition to Macri's main rival, Alberto Fernandez, ahead of presidential elections in October.
In 2015, Macri was the challenger, with a message of hope and change that appealed to many Argentines weary with a spluttering economy and corruption after 12 years of leftist populist rule by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.
Now, Macri is the incumbent having to explain why his economic promises have largely failed to materialize. The danger he faces is that newly impoverished Argentines like Espinoza may be more energized to vote to punish him at the polls, while some of his disenchanted middle class backers could stay home or spoil their votes, say political analysts.
On Sunday, voters will get their first chance to give their verdict on the bitter pill economic policies that Macri says are needed to put the economy on a firmer footing but have helped to fuel soaring inflation, hitting Argentines hard in their pocketbooks. The primary elections will be an important gauge of how the key candidates are doing ahead of the general election on Oct. 27.
Fernandez has only a slight edge over Macri in opinion polls, so winning over voters like Espinoza will be key for both of them.
"We've been badly squeezed," Espinoza told Reuters beside his rudimentary home-made barbecue with a sign saying "Choripan $1."
"It is as everyone says, with the other government we lived a little better and it is true," he said, referring to the populist administration of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who was president from 2007-2015. She is now Alberto Fernandez's running mate on the main opposition ticket.
Alberto FernÃ¡ndez, looking to spur the opposition's base to come out and vote, presents himself as the "common man," in contrast to the wealthy, well-tailored Macri. He campaigns as a unifier on the slogan "the future includes everyone."
Fernandez has vowed to "re-work" Argentina's $57-billion loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which many Argentines blame for the economic austerity measures. He has also promised access to free medicines for retirees and better wages for workers.
"Macri came to power and turned off the knob of the economy. Consumption fell, production collapsed, unemployment increased and many people fell into poverty," Fernandez said in a recent post on Twitter.
In a campaign video on the "new poor", the center-left Peronist claims that 4.1 million people have fallen into poverty since Macri took office in 2015. "We can't allow 4 more years of this," he says.
Researchers at two Argentine universities estimate that 35% of the population is living in poverty, up from the official government rate of 27.3% in the first half of last year.
Macri's administration, meanwhile, points to signs of improvement in the economy like tempering inflation and a revival in economic activity, and urges people to stick with the government as reforms start to bear fruit.
"Even if it takes time, it's worth the effort," Macri says in one campaign video showing highways, train lines and other major investment projects the administration argues are key to revitalizing growth.
Macri's office declined to comment for this story, but Fernando Iglesias, a member of Macri's Juntos por el Cambio party and national congressman for the city of Buenos Aires, defended the president's record in office.
"They (the previous government) left us with a fiscal deficit of 8% and now we are reaching a zero deficit. They left us with destroyed infrastructure and we did the most public works in the last 50 years. The numbers are not good, poverty is up, but we are talking about manageable numbers," Iglesias said.
But in a country that has battled on and off with recession for decades patience is in short supply.
Macri's dilemma is that despite the nascent signs of an economic revival, voters like Espinoza still don't feel any better off.
That's a challenge for Macri, because poorer Argentines are a key voting bloc in elections. While they have historically favored the generous social welfare programs beloved of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, he cannot afford to ignore them.
They tend to live in regions with the highest concentration of registered voters, giving them the power to sway results in battleground areas like Buenos Aires province.
Many live in the less-affluent areas around Buenos Aires, known as the "Conurbano", which is home to almost 40% of the country's electorate. Macri lost the province in the 2015 run-off that secured him the presidency, and another bad showing in the region this year would seriously damage his chances of re-election.
Ahead of the primaries, Fernandez's campaign has been on the road, meeting voters across the country to press home the attack on Macri's handling of the economy.
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