Even though the National Deputy for the Frente Renovador party Sergio Massa won’t openly admit it, many fingers are pointing at him to succeed Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as Argentina’s next leader in the 2015 presidential elections. During the past week, Massa has gone on a mini-tour in the United States presenting his credentials to members of the public and private sector, while projecting a certain aura of the man who will bring a new political era to Latin America’s third largest economy.
For now Massa is not even the official candidate of the Renewal Front coalition, a Peronist group rival to the Kirchner administration, or as Massa puts it “a group that differs from what Argentina’s politics had long been,” that he co-founded last year. Ever since his landslide victory in Buenos Aires province in the mid-term elections, held in October 2013, he has taken the spotlight – and filled the void – as the middle-ground politician that Argentina might just need. Curiously, he defected from the official kirchnerismo views only recently (Massa was her cabinet chief in 2008-09 , when he defended her protectionist economic policy).
The official speech he brought to the U.S. – and the entourage that has accompanied him in his visits to Washington D.C. and New York, led by Martín Redrado, former central bank governor who would likely hold an important role in a future government – supports the theory that Massa will run. Further buoying his supporters, the National Deputy showed signs of being ready for the presidential challenge – though as always skirting around the issue – in an event in New York on March 27 at Americas Society/Council of the Americas. His message can be summed up in one of his leading statements: “there is a political cycle that is ending in Argentina in 2015 [and it] will bring a new political moment to the country.” What is even more telling is his specificity as to the lead-up to the next elections; “623 days until the new cycle,” he noted.
What remains to be seen, and a key issue for Argentina’s recuperation, is whether Massa will be able to boost Argentina’s credibility in the global markets and regain investors’ confidence. During his U.S. tour – prior to his AS/COA presentation Massa visited Morgan Stanley – he made it clear that the country’s biggest problem is inflation (as hundreds of thousands of Argentinians do). “Argentina must present different tools to resolve the inflation issue, tools that have to do with the country’s monetary policy and to emphasize the autonomy and independence of the central bank, and the importance to not tie the activity of such institution to the need of financing the country’s treasury but to tie it to a program,” said Massa. “What we first have to do as a country is put together a program of gradual reduction of inflation with spending goals, monetary policy goals and investment goals,” he added in New York to an audience largely formed by investors, bank representatives and analysts from the region.
He’s also displayed stark criticism towards the bogus inflation numbers the government has been publishing and its control over the national statistics agency, Indec. Hours before his intervention, the government cut its 2013 growth estimate to 3% compared with previous official estimates of 4.9% (Kirchner has also been accused of over-reporting growth) and announced that subsidies on natural gas and water would be cut by a fifth.
The man who could be the future president of Argentina commented on the international role the South American country should play, hinting towards a more approachable and trade oriented position: “Argentina has a unique possibility thanks to its geographic location, which is connected with its geo-political situation. It’s naturally located in Mercosur and has been part of the construction, design and development of the regional alliance. But today it has a big opportunity, which is to transform itself as the bridge with the Pacific Alliance, precisely because it’s located in the middle of both blocs.”
Massa’s vision has a long way to go but Argentina’s elections are already gearing up. Mauricio Macri, the conservative mayor of Buenos Aires, has already declared his presidential candidacy – he also recently visited the U.S. Massa also has a strong rival within the Peronist camp in Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires province. While important, the candidates are only a part of what’s at stake if a new political cycle is truly to begin. Many issues are on the table that go beyond the economic ones, such as organized crime, security and drug traffic. Given the stakes, Argentinians — voters and candidates alike — are counting down the days until December 2015.