Cristina Fernandez re-elected

October 25, 2011

This is a follow-up to my blogpost The remarkable Cristina Fernandez, where this election victory was already predicted. The re-election is no surprise, but I nevertheless want to mention it because positive news seem to be rare in these times.

Christina Fernandez crushed a fractured opposition that fielded six opponents and she won nearly 54 percent of the votes, her nearest challenger had just 17 percent. The margin of victory is the widest in a presidential election since democracy replaced a brutal military dictatorship in 1983.

Her party also won eight of the nine governor’s races, increased the majority in the Senate and retook the lower house of Congress, which it had lost in 2009. For the next two years at least Cristina Fernandez will be able to govern virtually unfettered.

Christina had strong support from the impoverished part of the population, who considered her as the only one of the eight candidates who could make their lives less miserable. She and her late husband Nestor Kirchner put more money in the pockets of the poor and created more social programs to help them than any leader since Juan Domingo Peron.

Buoyed by a sustained demand from China and elsewhere for soy and other Argentine food products, the economy recovered in the past eight years, allowing her to use the windfall from commodity taxes for cash transfers to poor families, for energy subsidies and other social programs.

Many families now benefit from child welfare payments, a three billion US$ program that Christina Fernandez created by presidential decree. She also increased retiree pensions and last month raised the minimum wage by 25 percent to 541 US$ a month, Latin America’s highest minimum wage rate. Poverty has dropped from 54 percent in 2003 to 8 percent this year, according to the government’s INDEC statistics service.

The president’s rivals complained that her spending spree has overly exposed Argentina to the looming global economic crisis and it is true that the social spending depends on revenues now expected to decline sharply in 2012. Inflation also remains a huge threat and could destabilize the economy.

Christina will be constantly assaulted and sabotaged by the money elite, especially the nation’s powerful agricultural sector; conservative critics like Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa will continue to call for neoliberal reforms (a la Milton Friedman), for trade liberalization, privatization, and austerity measures.

Until now she has dismissed the neocon recipes and has not bowed to the money elite, her landslide election victory will give her additional leverage. She has given no signs that she plans to modify her fiscal and monetary policies. As a conservative commentator worded it: “It will be hard to stop Ms Fernandez from doing whatever she pleases.”

Hopefully! And good luck, Christina.

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