Don’t look for a Kirchner comeback in Argentina
By Ian Bremmer The story of Nestor Kirchner has taken yet another unexpected turn. Though he remained widely popular, then-president Kirchner decided in 2007 not to seek re-election as Argentina’s chief executive, mainly because he feared that term limits would make him a lame duck and cost him control of his party. To extend his ...
By Ian Bremmer
The story of Nestor Kirchner has taken yet another unexpected turn. Though he remained widely popular, then-president Kirchner decided in 2007 not to seek re-election as Argentina’s chief executive, mainly because he feared that term limits would make him a lame duck and cost him control of his party. To extend his influence, he threw support behind his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who won the election to succeed him.
Since then, things haven’t gone well for either of them. Mrs. Kirchner has seen her popularity steadily ebb to less than 30 percent. To revive her (and his own) political fortunes, Mr. Kirchner decided to run for the lower house of congress this summer to represent Buenos Aires province, by far the country’s largest. The former president came in second, and his wife’s government lost its majority in both houses of congress. Political obituaries followed, and the Kirchner preference for nationalization, generous social spending, wealth redistribution, and manipulation of economic data now appears on the way out.
But Nestor Kirchner doesn’t accept defeat easily. In the months since his embarrassment at the polls, he has worked to fight his way back toward relevance. Though finishing second, he still qualified for a seat under Argentina’s system of proportional representation, and Kirchner formally assumed his post last week. With Argentina’s economy likely to recover, financial relief on the horizon, and a fragmented opposition, the Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner administration will probably muddle through to the next presidential election in 2011.
Now Nestor Kirchner appears to be flirting with another run for the presidency. His wife’s government succeeded in driving through comprehensive electoral reform last week meant to help his cause — by strengthening established political parties and leaving smaller parties out of the running. Though Argentina is not Venezuela and no Argentine president can hope to exercise the political dominance that Hugo Chávez enjoys in Caracas, the government also managed to pass a law in October that gives government greater influence over the country’s broadcast media.
But Nestor Kirchner’s chances of winning in 2011 are slim. Rising inflation will continue to stoke political and social tension, and he and his wife will shoulder much of the blame. Ironically, the Kirchners’ own electoral reform plan could lead to further embarrassment at the polls. The new plan also establishes that all registered voters must cast ballots in party primaries. Independent voters can vote in any primary they choose, leading to the unanticipated problem that the same voters who punished him at the polls last summer could strangle his presidential candidacy even before it reaches the general election.
Vice President Julio Cobos now looks to be the candidate best positioned to take advantage of a growing appetite for change — and an end to the Kirchner dynasty and the political turmoil it so often generates. Dissident Peronist candidate and former president Eduardo Duhalde has signaled a willingness to challenge Kirchner in the primary and could also become a competitive candidate.
That’s good news for Argentina, which may finally begin to get its fiscal house in order and begin to attract much-needed foreign investment again following the next election.
Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group.
JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images
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