With Argentina in Recession, Macri Shifts Focus to Law and Order

As Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri tries to steer the national conversation away from economic gloom ahead of the October elections, one cabinet member is constantly by his side.

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich stood prominently next to Macri at the presidential palace on Monday as he announced a decree strengthening the government’s powers to recoup goods obtained via bribery, drug-trafficking or other criminal activities. It was her second appearance alongside Macri in little over a week, prompting rumors in the local press about a possible vice-presidential candidacy.

Patricia BullrichPhotographer: Juan Mabromata/AFP via Getty Images

Nine out of ten Argentines say inflation is the biggest worry, followed by economic uncertainty and utility price hikes. Six out of ten think insecurity is a big issue, according to a multiple-choice poll by D’Alessio IROL-Berensztein, which interviewed 1,355 people in December.

The Opposition

Crime and corruption are also two weak spots for Macri’s likely opponent in the election, former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. A couple of her former senior ranking officials are in jail following their conviction on bribery and corruption charges. Kirchner has been charged in multiple graft cases too, but currently enjoys legal immunity as a senator.

Macri, a pro-business president who took office pledging to reduce poverty and inflation, saw his poll numbers fall in 2018 as Argentina plunged into a currency crisis. The peso weakened 50 percent last year, consumer prices rose by almost the same amount and the economy likely contracted about 2.5 percent. Poverty also ticked up after declining for two years. As the recession drags on, Macri wants to turn voters’ attention elsewhere.

The focus on crime “is a way of keeping corruption at the forefront of people’s minds where his opponent has a huge weakness,” Shannon O’Neil, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in Buenos Aires. For Macri, “if he’s lucky, the economy will have recovered by election time. But you have to run on something, and one of the things you see in the polls is that Argentines care about security.”

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