BUENOS AIRES – Argentine President Mauricio Macri announced on Tuesday that 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.
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 1987-1993 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.