Argentina takes a turn for the better

President-elect Mauricio Macri won a runoff election against Argentina’s ruling party candidate on Sunday, ending a 12-year political dynasty.
President-elect Mauricio Macri won a runoff election against Argentina’s ruling party candidate on Sunday, ending a 12-year political dynasty. AP

Argentina’s voters opted for a better future on Sunday by electing Mauricio Macri to the presidency, replacing an exhausted political dynasty whose populist policies led the country to the brink of ruin with a pragmatic center-right figure aligned with pro-market forces.

After eight years with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner at the helm, following the four-year term of her late husband, Néstor Kirchner, the country was overdue for a change toward sound economics and less political and social polarization. Such was the promise of Mr. Macri’s underdog campaign. He chose tolerance over confrontation in defeating Danilo Scioli, a former vice president under Mr. Kirchner.

Voters were plainly tired of Mrs. Kirchner, who often demonized the private sector and anyone who disagreed with her government. Under her, Argentina’s domestic politics became progressively harsher and meaner. She thrived on controversy and political feuds. Self-promotion and blistering attacks on rivals and critics became hallmarks of her tenure at Casa Rosada, Argentina’s national palace.

On the international front, she courted Iran’s radical leaders and made common cause with leftist political figures throughout the region whose own populist schemes were as destructive as her own, if not more so, including the late Hugo Chávez and his successor as president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.

Mr. Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, has wisely vowed to maintain some popular social programs introduced by the Kirchners, including cash subsidies for poor families. He also said he plans to keep some big nationalized companies, like Aerolineas Argentinas, under government control, but he also promised to steer a centrist economic course and work with, instead of against, the private sector.

It is in the realm of foreign policy where his ideas stand in sharpest contrast to those fostered by Mrs. Kirchner.

He has vowed to end her close ties with Venezuela and even said he will call for that country’s suspension from the regional economic group known as Mercosur for not complying with the bloc’s democratic clause requiring members to abide by democratic principles. That would further weaken an increasingly isolated President Maduro, who faces parliamentary elections on Dec. 6 that do not bode well for his party.

Relations with the United States are also likely to improve under Mr. Macri, who will happily tone down Mrs. Kirchner’s pointless anti-American rhetoric and reach out to both the U.S. government and private business. Years of strained relations with major industrial nations have left Argentina broke and economically isolated. It needs to restart its economy and restore a strong private sector alongside a business establishment that has confidence in the nation’s government — which was impossible under Mrs. Kirchner.

Nothing could do more to raise his nation’s international profile than for Mr. Macri to annul Argentina’s agreement with Iran to jointly investigate the deadly 1994 attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. This smelly deal, fostered by Mrs. Kirchner, is simply a cover-up of Iran’s responsibility for the attack. Instead, Mr. Macri should order an investigation into why the outgoing government was so willing to get in bed with Iran over this horrendous crime.

One election does not a trend make. But certainly the decision by Argentina’s voters to reject the Kirchner legacy suggests that the populist strain may have run its destructive course throughout Argentina and the region. It can’t happen too soon.