At a time of global uncertainty, Argentineans voted for continuity on August 14. More than anything else, Sunday´s presidential primary results revealed the country’s preference for President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Unlike in the U.S. where primaries mean the selection of a party´s candidate, in Argentina, the candidates had already been chosen and voters were free to vote for whomever they wished. In effect, Sunday´s election was a popularity contest and a dry run for the presidential contest on October 23.
Cristina proved so popular that she blew the other contenders out of the water with over 50 percent of the national vote. She held a nearly 38 percentage point lead over runner-up candidates Ricardo Alfonsín (12.17 percent)—son of popular former President Raúl Alfonsín—and Eduardo Duhalde (12.16 percent), a transitional president after Argentina´s economic collapse in 2002-2003.
Looking quite fabulous despite her black garb, Cristina Fernández appeared emotionally moved by the support at last night’s results rally. To say the least, she has recently weathered a few sentimental disturbances, the worst of which was the passing of her husband and political sidekick, former President Nestor Kirchner in late October 2010. And just this week, her son´s girlfriend suffered a late miscarriage, which made front page news and led to cancellations on the presidential agenda. These very human experiences seem to have bolstered Ms Fernández´s popularity and helped people overlook her administration’s deficiencies.
Of course, an average 6 percent growth rate over the last several years has also worked in her favor. Insatiable Chinese demand for primary products rather than presidential politics is largely to thank, but the Kirchners do deserve credit for maintaining hefty central bank reserves, which allowed the country to weather the worldwide recession beginning in 2008 and cushions it from a possible second global economic dip. The reserves also allow the central bank to manage a steady 4-to-1 flexible peso peg to the dollar, which allays consumer and business fears.
The vote in favor of President Fernández, however, disguises serious issues facing Argentineans today.
For one, rampant inflation has accompanied the positive economic growth. It is not unusual to see middle-class homemakers breaking out in cold sweats at the grocery checkout lines. Argentineans in need of a new toaster oven or a Blackberry will also be disappointed as there’s few available since the government increased import restrictions. And a much grimmer picture emerges when taking into account the reputation of the government’s statistical agency (INDEC) under the Kirchners and the alarming corruption allegations that link government housing projects with the once beloved Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and embezzlement by its administrative head, Sergio Schoklender.
Still, with continued global instability, Argentina and its president don’t look so bad these days.
*Janie Hulse Najenson is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. She is an analyst based in Buenos Aires, Argentina and the editor and producer of Insights from the Field, a quarterly publication promoting perspectives from within Latin America on politico-economic and security issues affecting the region.