Mauricio Macri’s Cambiemos party is now facing a serious threat from Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. During the first half of Mauricio Macri’s first term, the ruling party, although far from reversing the complicated economic situation, was confident that the repudiation of CFK would be a stronger force than the criticism of the current administration.
During 2016 and 2017 Macri and company were able to show the humble achievements in the stability of gradualism and made the cause of rampant corruption in the Kirchner administration the centerpiece of its communication strategy: the polarization and the contrast became the only concrete thing about the government.
But last year’s crisis exposed the weak economic situation and the outlook changed drastically. After ending up in the mega-balance sheet of the IMF and facing month after month of uncontrolled rates of inflation, Cambiemos today is not in a position to guarantee a second term. Not even with a possible race with another Peronist other than Kirchner, but now even against Cristina Fernández de Kirchner herself, Macri is in trouble. The very complicated economic situation has weighed heavily in the polls, and there are already polls that assure that ex-president Kirchner would be able to defeat Macri in a second round election this year.
In recent weeks, the idea of the return of CFK has already become one of the specific scenarios considered by analysts and investors. From Kirchner spokesmen one already perceives a new strategy: little by little appears moderation is appearing in their discourse. The one who is not speaking is Cristina, and her silence is synonymous with an increase in the intention to vote. Meanwhile Cambiemos is wearing out its welcome day by day.
This new panorama necessitates the obligatory question. Could another term from this failed government be worse? Even worse than the feared return of CFK? Although for now it is all speculation (note that as of today neither of the two are even confirmed as candidates) there are some points that can be analyzed.
The power of Peronism and the merit of survival (but the destruction of institutions)
It’s needless to say that if Cristina manages to return for a third term, the next day she will have all the Peronist elements aligned with her. Although Peronism has used its most ideological militants as cannon fodder at times, when faced with the exercise of real power, the ideology that has always prevailed is pragmatism.
The old Perón who returned in the seventies never even considered returning to the fascist Constitution of the forties, which he himself had imposed. The Menem of the nineties did the opposite of what he promised in the campaign and Cristina herself has shown her contradictions too. During the Menem era she accompanied the former president and voted for all his privatizations, the opposite of what he said he’d do in his presidency. But the context of 2003, when Néstor Kirchner was elected, is very different from today’s. The tide has turned. Chavez and Lula are no longer there, and there are no more resources to keep the populist “fiesta” going.
That is why, although it sounds unbelievable, it would be perfectly possible to imagine Kirchner, in a third term, demonstrating greater responsibility in economic matters. Not out of will or desire, but motivated by mere survival. Upon returning to the Casa Rosada, it will be clear to Kirchner from day one that there is nothing else to do in Argentina other than put the nation’s finances in order, and dismantle the ticking time bomb that she partly created herself. Especially if she is interested in remaining in office for more than one term again. The most important challenge she would face would be surviving the crisis of confidence at the beginning of her term.
Although it is not impossible to consider a moderate CFK with respect to economic policy (that could even show better results than Macri), the fundamental aspect to take into account in this scenario is the risk that the institutions run in the case of her return.
The galloping corruption of the 2003-2015 period necessarily needs an aligned press and a compromised justice system. The enormity of the legal proceedings against her and the officials who accompanied her and her deceased husband, would require the destruction of an independent judiciary in order to ensure her survival. There is peril in CFK with autonomous executive power, controlling governmental bodies with freedom of action. This is hardly a minor issue, and should be considered with care when it comes to getting excited about anything that ends with the resounding failure of Macri and Cambiemos.
A reelected Macri: weaker and hemmed in
Macri’s economic blunders have encouraged Cambiemos’s ally, the Radical Civic Union (UCR), to gain political ground and ask for more power. As of today, the UCR is asking for the vice presidential slot, and also dreams of naming the next Minister of Economy. This is an important factor when it comes to analyzing the economic performance of a hypothetical second term.
If Macri could not, did not want to, or did not know how to carry out the “orthodox” plan that Argentina desperately needed when he did not have to ask anyone’s permission, what does he think he could do by co-governing with Argentina’s members of the Socialist International?
Radicalism has no interest in adopting a responsible economic program and constantly forces Macri to turn to populist measures, such as the current “freezing” of prices.
The Radical Civic Union, already uncomfortable in its partnership with what it considers to be “the right”, will not be willing to carry out the necessary rational economic program, so there are no serious reasons to be deluded with a second term where Macri does something different.
The only possibility would be for the leader of Cambiemos to get re-elected and then betray his uncomfortable partners (those he needs to seek a new mandate) from day one. A scenario involving a similar rupture would find Macrismo in a situation of parliamentary weakness and present him with the obligation to form a new immediate coalition with Peronism. Such a daring move seems to be within the realm of possibility of the risks that Macri has shown he is willing to take.
Unfortunately, these questions have no concrete answers for now; however, they deserve to be analyzed while clarifying the Argentine electoral landscape.