Five thoughts about President Kirchner's big win in Argentina
Guest blogger James Bosworth breaks down why Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner won Argentina's presidential election, and what the future might hold for her and her country.
A big win. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner won an impressive reelection in Argentina with over 53 percent of the vote in the first round. She won a majority of the vote in all but three provinces and only lost in one province (San Luis). Her party also won a congressional majority and nine provincial gubernatorial races. She deserves to celebrate.
Economic boom. Mrs. Kirchner won because the average Argentine citizen perceives the economy as doing quite well, better than it was before the Kirchners came to power in 2003. This is a combination of luck (high demand for soya, particularly from China), good policies (conditional cash transfers and welfare for the poor have improved the livelihoods of many in the lower economic classes), populist policies that are still working (price controls), and pushing some macroeconomic problems off until the future (including inflation, federal to state transfers, foreign debt, and currency flight). Whatever the analysis as to why, the economic situation at election time was good for the average voter, which translates to a win.
Divided opposition. The runner-up in this election with 17 percent of the vote, Hermes Binner, is much closer to Kirchner ideologically than the other opposition candidates. The next three opposition candidates were Ricardo Alfonsin with 11 percent, Rodriguez Saa with 8 percent, Eduardo Duhalde with 6 percent. By winning over half of the vote, CFK supporters could argue that they could have defeated any unified opposition. That said, the divisions within the opposition certainly did not help. There was no leading opposition candidate for most of the race with two, three, or even four people competing at times to be the leading alternative to the president. Now, a divided opposition lacking clear leadership will make the president's job even easier.
New mandate with an unclear agenda. Kirchner's win provides her a mandate to continue being herself. She controls the presidency, the vice presidency, the Congress, most of the biggest provincial governments, and the internal Peronist party structures. Yes, she still has sharp divides with opposition parties and even within her own party (including an ongoing fight with some unions and senior leadership), but her majority win means she controls the agenda and her opponents will need to respect her popular mandate early on and give her a chance to succeed.
However, the president didn't propose big new programs in this election and it's not particularly clear what she will do with her renewed power. Her best case scenario is to try to enact some of the tax reforms and other economic legislation that was stalled by the previous opposition-controlled congress, allowing her economic agenda to be fully implemented and seeing if it brings even better results (in spite of what most experts think). Her worst case scenario is to use the new authority to renew her battles with the media, give unfair economic benefits to her base of supporters, or try to divide the opposition further. Citizens want to see results, not fights and not backroom deals for economic spoils.
CFK owns her success or failure. By controlling most of the power in the country, the president will own the results. She will have nobody else to blame if things go wrong and nobody else to share credit with if things go well. Voters reelected her to see continued economic growth and policies that distribute that growth over the population. If she delivers (via good policies, luck, populism or deferring tough decisions), the voters will continue to support her. This election proved voters care more about results than process. If the economy starts to falter, then voters will blame the process and will look for a viable alternative (if one can be found). For now, Kirchner has her mandate and the backing of the population. She should use it wisely and take credit if continued results follow.
--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.
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