Argentina’s pivot from Peronism

Sunday’s election of a president with a reconciliatory style may upend the populist ruling style created by Juan and Eva Perón.

Argentina's president-elect Mauricio Macri gives a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 23, the day after his victory. His win ends more than a decade of rule under the Peronist movement.

Political leaders, whether elected or not, are often of two types. They either listen to the people or they dictate to them. For decades in Argentina, the ruling Peronist party has followed the advice of its namesake, Juan Perón, who said in 1951: “The masses don’t think, the masses feel and they have more or less intuitive and organized reactions. Who produces those reactions? Their leader.”

A Nov. 22 election in Argentina may have upset this tradition of manipulative low regard of the people. The candidate of the ruling Peronist party, Daniel Scioli, lost to Mauricio Macri, the Buenos Aires mayor who ran as leader of a coalition called “Let’s Change.”

Mr. Macri’s governing style is a far cry from the power-wielding and divisive behavior of the late Juan and Eva Perón. He is a reconciler. The former engineer and chief executive of a famous soccer team promises to change the country’s political tone and restore Argentina’s relations with Europe, the United States, and international creditors after years of acrimony.

He is also expected to reverse the practice of the current government to fudge figures about the real state of the economy, such as the high inflation rate. In 2013, Argentina was the first nation to be censured by the International Monetary Fund for its accounting practices.

For the rest of Latin America, Macri’s victory might help bring a return to the region’s democratic principles. He plans to ask the Organization of American States to denounce Venezuela for its disregard of human rights, such as the jailing of nonviolent opponents. The outgoing Argentine president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has been close to the Venezuelan regime.

When he takes office Dec. 10, Macri will have his listening skills put to the test. The world commodity boom, which boosted Argentina’s export economy for years, is over. He will need to cut government subsidies handed to the poor for their votes as well as millions of state jobs given to Peronist loyalists. (About a fifth of workers are employed by the government.)

The Peronist era of free-spending populism, power plays, and class-baiting may be over. A rise in corruption, crime, and debt helped in bringing its current downfall. Not all of Macri’s policies may be right for Argentina. But his style suggests he’ll listen and learn.

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