The last candidate from a party led by Sergio Massa who run for office in the Buenos Aires City was the former minister of Finance during the Néstor Kirchner administration, Guillermo Nielsen, in the 2015 Mayoral elections. It didn’t go well. Nielsen got less than 1.5 percent of the votes, the required minimum to qualify to compete in the general election, which was eventually won by the PRO’s Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.

Matías Tombolini was picked by Massa to avoid that disaster and get a better performance. Running under the 1País banner — which, to Massa’s Renewal Front (FR), adds political leaders such as Margarita Stolbizer and Victoria Donda — the 43-year-old economist, public speaker and university professor will seek to make it through the primaries and present himself as an alternative to the three main forces that have disputed the City in the past elections: the PRO (now Vamos Juntos); Unidad Porteña (with Daniel Filmus, Guillermo Moreno and Itai Hagman); and Martín Lousteau’s Evolución Ciudadana.

The Bubble spoke to Tombolini to learn the reasons why he decided to run for office and why he went with Massa, how he would implement his campaign promises and why he thinks the government lacks ideas in this campaign.

“We have a campaign with a government that lacks ideas. in this election you either stand with the government’s ‘hugs and kisses’ strategy or you don’t,” he claims.

Tombolini began by explaining that he found Massa’s proposal attractive for two reasons: his now fellow candidates; and because “the party focuses on proposals.” “1País discusses ideas, not people,” he begins.

“[Massa’s caucus] joined the government in its congressional agenda when it deemed it was appropriate to do so and opposed it when it didn’t. We get a lot more criticism from those opposed to us because there’s no willingness to debate ideas today, and those who want to do so are criticized. 1País effectively comes up with proposals, which revolve around this axis: that today, in Argentina, people don’t have enough money. Both the former and current administrations haven’t been able to solve that problem and there is a lack of innovative ideas to face the issue.”

When asked about why his party is targeted by critics so much, Tombolini focused on the punches that have been originating from the government — high-ranking officials, President Mauricio Macri included, have called Massa an “opportunist” and claim that he can’t be trusted —  and said that “they [the government] are seeking to make the debate about the economy invisible because they don’t have results to show for.”

“When you don’t have numbers to discuss the present, what you do is fight with the past, hence their fight with [former President] Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Or you also criticize the person speaking, rather than what the person is saying, which is an extremely different thing,” he argued.

The economist went on to assure the candidates representing the Cambiemos coalition are also doing this because they haven’t presented proposals of their own. He provided an example: “there’s no counter proposal. We propose to lower the prices of certain foods and they criticize. They say that the tax reduction can’t be financed. If we could talk to someone [from the government] we would tell them that ‘yes, we can. we can finance lowering taxes of 11 essential products.'”

Photo via Frente Renovador.
Photo via Frente Renovador.

In order to finance them, “you apply the same logic the government put in place to lower taxes on the farming sector’s exports. We agreed with that decision, although we didn’t agree with doing the same for the mining sector. When they moved forward with that, there was no debate about how it would impact the budget. However, taxes were lowered and today the farming sector generates more tax revenue via income tax than what the government taxed on export rights.”

Tombolini argues his coalition’s proposal is “boosting consumption by lowering taxes on food and generating a level of growth that pushes one of the most important parts of our GDP, which is consumption,” he argued.

Tombolini’s claims that Argentines are struggling to make ends meet. It’s the focus of his street and TV ads. At the beginning of all his speeches and press conferences, he usually explains his proposal to lower the added value tax (IVA). So he told us of his other idea. He referred me to his website so I went on to list the main ones.

  • The so-called “aisles law”, which would allocate a specific amount of space in supermarkets’ aisles to national products, in order to help fight the competition.
  • Haber 14, which would pay pensioners an extra AR$ 2,500 every time they get their aguinaldo —  a bonus employees and pensioners receive in June and December, in accordance to the country’s labor laws —  paid with funds from the Anses social security. “it can either be permanent or not, but let’s at least do it this year so pensioners can recover some of their purchasing power. It would allow us to use some of the savings for times of need,” he explained.
  • “Legalize Uber, let it pay taxes, have a register of drivers and vehicles. And at the same time lower taxes for taxis, so drivers don’t have to pay taxes like a normal car does at the time of renewing their vehicle.”
  • Promote a serious debate about the so-called “pink tax” —  “when you buy, for example, a razor, you pay less than what a woman does for the same product” —   and work on menstrual products, which are considered to be hygiene-related products by the Health Ministry instead of health-related products.

Although he has a high profile in economic and academic circles, Tombolini jumped to the national scene during the midterms campaign with ads that could be described as “unconventional,” at least for the likes of Argentine politics.

In one of them, he addresses the viewers directly from his kitchen. After introducing himself to the audience, he explains that money is not enough and highlights the need to “discuss ideas, not people.” In others, he compares average food such as meat and sunflower oil with luxury products. The ads made rounds on social media, generating all kinds of reactions.

Tombolini received criticism from some sectors for talking about the population’s economic woes from what seems to be a very big kitchen in his home. To that, he replies: “it bothered politicians for two reasons. First, we talked about something that they don’t want to talk about. Second, because I showed myself like I really am. I generate a lot of content for Facebook from there, and I have been doing that since before entering politics. Modern politics should invite us to show our real selves. Where we come from and where we go to. And politicians don’t want to do that,” he said.

PresenTombo pic.twitter.com/rKNQQ5zjAA

Regarding his other controversial ads ads, he said that “the kind of noise that the campaign made has to do with our counterparts’ lack of creativity. They are going down a traditional path because they are not close to people’s problems. We insist that money is not enough. That’s the problem we have in Buenos Aires City and the rest of the country.”

Using this as a standpoint, he criticized members of the Macri administration for hinting they are planning on conducting several reforms after the elections, but haven’t outlined concrete proposals. “They are not saying ‘the reform to the pension system should be like this; the reform to the labor laws should be like that, and so on. It’s incredible, but we have a campaign with a government that lacks ideas.”

“In this election you either stand with the government’s ‘hugs and kisses’ strategy or you don’t. But there’s not a concrete proposal that allows us to evaluate as a society if the government is going down the right path. This invites us to think if they don’t want to propose things because it’s not electorally convenient. And if that’s the case, is it because the reforms they are thinking of doing are not very nice?” he finished.