The first-round victory of Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, wife of incumbent President Nestor Kirchner, reinforces the trends to the left in Latin America, but also illustrates its ambiguities; it shows democracy has been stabilized, but remains of poor quality; and it suggests that women can aspire to the highest offices of government, but have to perpetuate gender stereotypes to win. By Dr. Maxwell Cameron
Maxwell A. Cameron
Comment is free
October 29, 2007
President Kirchner did not explain his decision to forgo running for re-election, which, under Argentina’s constitution, the incumbent president may do once following a term in office. Perhaps he feared the normal decline in popularity that second term presidents often experience, especially with signs of inflation and corruption scandals mounting around him. More cynically, he may have encouraged his wife to run so they could alternate in power perpetually, creating what might sloppily be called an electoral dynasty.
Under dynastic rule, the private affairs of the monarch are public spectacles, while the affairs of state are kept in secret. In this spirit, one may, therefore, be forgiven for asking: what role might the private Mr. Kirchner play in Cristina’s government? Will he keep to himself, like an Argentine Denis Thatcher? Or will he be co-president, or even the power behind the throne? We may soon be asking the same questions about Bill Clinton.
Comparisons with Hillary Clinton are inescapable, if not always illuminating. Both Hillary and Cristina are lawyers who rose from subnational to national prominence in partnership with men who became presidents; and both have parlayed their semi-private roles, and their own electoral success, into bids for the presidential sash. More importantly, perhaps, neither are innovators. Although they would be the first elected female presidents in their respective countries, they are also quite traditional politicians (which of course, means different things in the two countries).
Cristina projects a protective, motherly image. Her TV spots emphasize children. One, on “Dolores Argentina,” is about a child born during the recent economic crisis who, because of the country’s recovery, has the chance to live a normal life. Another asks children what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is. One says “a satellite that hit the moon,” while another says “a country where everything is backwards.” The spot celebrates the fact that Argentine children no longer have to know about the IMF and its harsh austerity measures.
With Cristina in power Argentina will remain aligned with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, which bought billions of dollars of Argentine debt when the IMF refused a bailout; past human rights crimes will continue be prosecuted; and poverty reduction will be a priority. With inflation, pressures on the nation’s energy supply and electrical grid, and rising crime, however, Cristina’s toughest challenge will be to deliver the dreamy promises of her relatively easy campaign victory.