Argentina elections, or the nine lives of Peronism

All three of the leading candidates in the upcoming general elections are Peronists - Scioli, Macri, Massa. The former,  endorsed by  the incumbent, Cristina Kirchner, and leading in the  polls, wows  to keep the existing subsidies system and the current strong state control over the economy. The second aims at liberalizing the economy to create jobs, and ending  the dollar peg of the peso. The latter pledges  also to create  jobs, but commits as well to zero tolerance for violence, corruption and legal uncertainty. Generic? Yes,  but neither  the Argentines got to learn much more about the specific programs, especially in the case of the officialist Scioli. A loyal and  large part of Argentine electorate does not want to hear about policies  involving "adjustments". The result is that, once again, Argentines may vote with their heart dismissing economic and political issues.

Daniel Scioli, presidential candidate for the Victory Front is kissed by his wife Karina Rabolini during a closing campaign rally in Buenos Aires, Argentina, October 22, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

The next president's to-do list  is Herculean: alleviate poverty that affects one-third of the population; boost agricultural and industrial production despite capital controls that discourage investments; regain access to external financing to continue repaying  the US funds that did  not take the deal when the country defaulted  in 2001, and to beef up the country's scarce international reserves; lead an extensive crackdown on corruption that has a grip on activities at all levels; and last but not least ensure greater legal certainty; and battle drug trafficking.

All of this is to be achieved against the backdrop of a global collapse in commodity prices, while an inflation topping 30%, internal indebtedness, a  scarcity of foreign currency and the loss of competitiveness against the other countries in the regioncontinue to deteriorate the domestic economy.

Brazil achieved this partially, but in Argentina the political game acts as an obstacle. The leading candidates were careful not to take strong stands on any issue that might scare away voters, and committed to maintaining the current social programs adding here and there proposals like "free medicines for the elderly" or the like regarding the school system, housing, etc. The Peronist opposition suffers of "short-termism" as much as the incumbent. Escaping  this trap are to a certain degree Margarita Stolbizer, the only female candidate with the Progressives, and Nicolás del Caño of the Left Front, both of which, however, have little or  no chance to win.

Following the black decade of dictatorships, Argentina's newfound democracy remained dominated by Peronism except for two brief periods in the 80s and the 90s. Justicialism arose from ashes every time: from its social democrat version in the 40s-50s with Peron, its revolutionary '70s, and its neoliberal 90s. Even left-right confrontation happened almost always within the large Peronist camp. The possibility for constituencies to easily shift from one faction to the other within the same political movement, which is unique in the world, partly explains the difficulty to conceive and implement policies and strategies for the medium to long term.

Néstor Kirchner before and his wife during the last 10 years now leave a legacy, Kirchnerism, that is appreciated by many — even a number of intellectuals for the audacity of certain stances of principle — and considered a catastrophe by many others. "The poverty and insecurity you see today  are unknown to those over forty" said Beatriz Sarlo, a thinker and lecturer at Berkeley who backs Progressive Stolbizer in an interview with El País.

Cristina Kirchner, with hermaternal and authoritarian style, tackled poverty by hiding its figures, and passing, on the other hand, popular measures like the universal contribution for each child. The dramatic phenomenon of Argentina becoming a laboratory and consumer of cocaine and ephedrine, and no longer only a transit country, was addressed similarly: ignoring its scope. Manipulating public resources, Cristina rocked the media that didn't support her,  but is nonetheless considered a champion of civil rights for having approved a law on egalitarian marriage.

She founded culture, but was also accused  of an alleged complicity in the death of a prosecutor investigating the bloody attack on the Israeli Association in Buenos Aires carried out by Iranian terrorists — Iran provided in recent years Argentina with cheap oil in exchange for grain. Cristina Kirchner used and abused the opportunity to speak on all channels simultaneously, but kept in total opacity economic figures.

A fruit of default was Argentine foreign debt still at 13% of GDP, but public sector expenditures  increased to 42.8% of GDP. Earlier in  October Argentina paid off in one single day $ 5.9 billion against maturing bonds, but for that it must thank also the  Russia-China axis that Argetina supports.

Cristina polarized society, and her economic balance is negative, albeit only for the country, because in 8 years the assets of the Kirchners increase by a stunning 3540%. "Kirchner's estate cannot be explained except as a result of their dream of eternity," said Stolbizer. The Oscar winning Argentine actor Ricardo Darín did not mince words either: "How is it that shame does not make [the Kirchners] lose their face? ... Argentina is a "childish country" which constantly needs "a poppa to tell  how things should be done," said the actor to Brando magazine.

... And who does not scare its citizens by mentioningthe likely impending devaluation, he could have added, or an inflation "that takes the elevator while salaries walk up the stairs."

Peronism in its infinite mutations along seven decades was surely the "father"of which Argentine political life could not do without. Néstor Kirchner promptly understood the depth of the Peronist identity and ideology crisis,  and played it in his favor perpetuating its image but deepening its fragmentation. Argentina now chooses between three versions of it, none of which carries the word "Peronism". Or perhaps, as many analysts believe, Argentines are going to the polls already in a post Peronist era.

@GuiomarParada

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