The Economist vuelve en su edición de este viernes sobre la victoria de Ms Cristina Fernández. El semanario británico analiza los desafíos que la nueva presidenta deberá afrontar, y se pregunta si será capaz de tomar las medidas impopulares necesarias para reencauzar la economía. The Economist cree ver más continuidad que cambio en la próxima gestión, sin por ello dejar de mostrarse (relativamente) optimista. Martín Tavaut
The penguins’ onward march
1 de Noviembre de 2007
The shift from Néstor to Cristina Kirchner offers a chance for change—even if this may prove to be largely cosmetic
THE polling stations were still open on October 28th when a pair of giant inflatable penguins, one male, one female, were set up in the plaza outside the hotel where Cristina Fernández de Kirchner celebrated her election as Argentina’s president. Her husband, Néstor, who has held the job since 2003, revels in his nickname the “penguin”, bestowed upon him because of his previous job as governor of the distant Patagonian province of Santa Cruz. And like a true penguin, he showed his commitment to his family with his surprising decision earlier this year to have his wife run in his stead.
Once that decision was taken, it was almost a formality that she would go on to become the first woman to be elected as Argentina’s president. The Kirchners control the Peronist movement, the country’s most powerful political machine: Ms Fernández was anointed, rather than having to submit to a primary. Many voters credit them for the country’s economic recovery.
The election cements their place at the forefront of the country’s politics for the foreseeable future. Ms Fernández won 45% of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off. She won commanding majorities in the working-class suburbs of Buenos Aires and among poorer voters across the country. The Kirchners’ supporters increased their majority in both houses of Congress. Daniel Scioli, Mr Kirchner’s vice-president, was elected to the powerful post of governor of Buenos Aires province (home to almost 40% of Argentines), though he may yet prove a fair-weather friend.
The missing ingredient that might have turned the election into a contest was a credible opposition. The Radicals, the Peronists’ main opponents for the past 60 years, were pulverised by the economic and financial collapse of 2001-02, which toppled them from power. Elisa Carrió, a centrist anti-corruption campaigner and a former Radical, came a distant but creditable second with 23%, while Roberto Lavagna, Mr Kirchner’s former economy minister, got 17%. Ms Carrió did well among the middle classes in the big cities, underlining the social polarisation that has often characterised Argentine politics.
Ms Fernández was a nationally-known politician before her husband: she has been in Congress since 1995. Both Kirchners cut their political teeth in the left-wing Peronist youth movement of the turbulent 1970s, before graduating as lawyers. She is more worldly than her husband, and may be a shade more moderate. But she has been a powerful influence behind the scenes during Mr Kirchner’s presidency, in which he has excoriated the IMF, the privatisations of the 1990s and multinational energy companies, while striking a firm alliance with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.
After Ms Fernández receives the presidential sash from her husband on December 10th, how much continuity or how much change will she offer? Since she did little active campaigning, that is hard to predict. But the most visible change may come in foreign policy. She wants to improve Argentina’s relations with the world, which are still strained by its break with the IMF and the 2001 debt default. Mr Kirchner rarely travelled and notoriously snubbed foreign visitors. In contrast, Ms Fernández has spent much of the past few months abroad courting foreign leaders and businessmen. She has vowed to renegotiate the $7 billion Argentina still owes the Paris Club group of creditor governments, and has echoed Brazil’s president, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, in seeking to position herself as an intermediary between Mr Chávez and the United States.
But her immediate task will be to consolidate Argentina’s economic recovery. Though helped by high prices for farm exports, this is showing fragility. Overheating has become increasingly pronounced since late 2005, when Mr Kirchner dropped the prudent Mr Lavagna: interest rates are negative in real terms, public spending has surged and so has inflation, despite price controls on food and energy.
Having tiptoed around these problems for much of the campaign, in the past fortnight Ms Fernández has dropped hints that she will address them, but gradually. Public spending is likely to grow more slowly, and utility tariffs may rise for the middle class. She has promised that the much-manipulated inflation index will in future employ a similar methodology to that in the United States. But it is not clear whether she will contemplate a rise in interest rates or an appreciation of the peso.
Despite her clear mandate, Ms Fernández may find governing more difficult than has Mr Kirchner. Her relationship with the Peronist base of unions, party-machine mayors, and street-protest organisations is distant. It could be strained if she curbs wage increases and public works to fight inflation. “There will be conflicts,” says Manuel Mora y Araujo, a political analyst. “Those people are tough, and they don’t negotiate easily.”
Mr Kirchner could do his wife a favour by taking some unpopular measures, such as raising utility tariffs and export taxes on farm products, over the next month. She may also rely on him in other ways. He has said he plans to devote his energies to creating a new centre-left coalition, gathering together the Peronist left and sections of the Radicals, to form an Argentine equivalent of Chile’s successful governing coalition, the Concertación.
Opponents have criticised Mr Kirchner as high-handed and as a man who has shown little willingness to be held accountable to democratic institutions. Ms Fernández has struck a different tone. In a conciliatory victory speech she offered to “extend a hand” to the opposition. But as she spoke some of her supporters broke into the Peronist party anthem. Whatever Ms Fernández’s intentions, Argentina may be in for rather more continuity than change.
The coronation of Queen Cristina
1 de Noviembre de 2007
A different Kirchner offers a chance to consolidate recovery
WAS it a gallant gesture from a doting husband? Was it a pre-arranged dynastic compact, enabling him to return in 2011? Or was it that Néstor Kirchner knew that Argentina requires policies different from those he has adopted for the past four years? Whatever the reason, since Mr Kirchner announced in July that he was standing aside in favour of his wife, there had been little doubt that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner would become the first woman to be elected to her country’s top job. Not so much a contest, the election on October 28th turned into the coronation of “Queen Cristina”, dubbed thus because of her regal manner (see article).
There were both good and bad reasons for her victory. Back in 2001-02, Argentina suffered a horrific economic, financial, social and political collapse, involving a massive devaluation and the world’s biggest sovereign debt default. Mr Kirchner has presided over a vigorous recovery in which poverty and unemployment have roughly halved. Many Argentines give him the credit for this—even though over the past two years he has recklessly allowed the economy to overheat. In other ways, too, Ms Fernández, the candidate, benefited unfairly from being Mrs Kirchner, the first lady: she made liberal use of the presidential plane, for example. Still, Ms Fernández’s mandate is clear. What she intends to do with it, however, is not.
Several things need to change if Argentina’s recovery is to be sustained. Understandably, Mr Kirchner gave absolute priority to economic growth. When inflation started to rise, his government tried to smother it by controlling prices and fiddling the numbers. Inflation is hitting the incomes of the poor. Many economists believe it is roughly double the official rate of 9%. Meanwhile, Mr Kirchner’s freeze on most energy tariffs is a wasteful subsidy that has contributed to occasional black-outs. Argentina also needs to engage with the outside world again, beyond Mr Kirchner’s friendship with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who has bought some $5 billion in Argentine government bonds. Queen Cristina’s kingdom needs a range of friendly foreign investors to sustain growth.
Ms Fernández has dropped hints that she understands some of these issues rather better than her husband. She has travelled widely in the past few months. She seems likely to try to improve Argentina’s relations with the United States—especially if Hillary Clinton, with whom she is sometimes compared, is elected there—and with Europe.
A looming encounter with reality
But her presidency will turn on whether or not she secures a soft landing for the economy, controlling inflation and steering growth to a sustainable 4-5% a year. There is still time to do this gradually. But some of the measures required—reining in public spending, raising interest rates and energy tariffs—will not be popular. Her failure during the campaign to prepare Argentines for what lies ahead will not help her.
In victory, Ms Fernández called for an end to hatred and confrontation. She could start by recognising that not everything that happened in the 1990s, when Carlos Menem privatised and modernised Argentina’s economy, was bad. Mr Kirchner’s attempt to undo Mr Menem’s work by setting up new state companies looks like a waste of public money. More open politics would be welcome, too: Mr Kirchner’s secretive government has incubated several corruption scandals.
Ms Fernández is basking in popularity. But to retain the voters’ approbation, she needs sustained economic progress, and that means taking some unpopular decisions quickly. The new queen clearly has the support of her people. The question is whether she has the courage.