President Mauricio Macri stunned Argentines and markets on Tuesday by naming the head of the congressional opposition as his vice-presidential candidate in October's general election. Miguel Angel Pichetto, a 68-year-old lawyer and Senator from the province of Rio Negro has been a loyal and pragmatic member of the Peronist movement since he started in politics in the early eighties.
In a series of tweets, Macri, a center-right former businessman whose popularity has been hit by a flagging economy and high inflation, called the October election an opportunity to “consolidate democracy” and laid out a series of goals such as defending human rights and combating crime.
“For all of this, we’ll need to build agreements with a lot of generosity and patriotism, which all Argentines who share these values can support,” Macri wrote.
Pichetto, who currently serves as president of Argentina’s Senate, has been all his life a member of Peronism, an ideologically diverse catch all political movement in Argentina. Considered a moderate, he supported the administration of leftist former president and current vice-presidential candidate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner during her 2007-2015 administration.
Previously Pichetto was an ally of the center-right president Carlos Menem, president from 1989-99, and then again of president Nestor Kirchner from 2003-07. But he fell out with Cristina Kirchner during her second term (2011/15).
Pichetto as opposition leader and president of the Senate was a key player in allowing Macri, who took power in 2015, to seal a final deal with holders of Argentine sovereign bonds, which was key to loosening up access to international financial markets.
Investors appeared to approve of Macri’s choice. A closely watched JP Morgan country risk index fell 66 basis points on the news to 866 points overall, its lowest level since April. The country’s benchmark Merval equities index jumped on the news, to close up 4.01% on Tuesday.
“(Pichetto) can offer governance to (Macri) and can allow him to manage the Senate, which is the most difficult part,” said Leonardo Svirsky of Buenos Aires-based Bull Market Brokers.
Macri, a scion of one of Argentina’s wealthiest families, came to power in 2015 on promises to kick-start Latin America’s third-largest economy via a liberalization wave after 12 years of interventionist rule. But the promised recovery has still not materialized, with the economy having shrunk by 2.5% in 2018 and 12-month rolling inflation over 50%.
Polls show Macri narrowly trailing the main opposition ticket, on which Cristina Fernandez is running for vice president under Alberto Fernandez, a former cabinet chief, she handpicked for the job since he is considered a moderate and has a good dialogue with most political forces. Alberto Fernandez also fell out with Cristina Fernandez during her second mandate.
Mrs. Kirchner is also embroiled in 12 corruption cases linked to her time as president. The first of those to go to trial opened on May 21.