Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Don’t cry for me Argentina

Kirchnerismo is out and the Conservatives are now in power in Argentina after this week’s presidential polls, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The wonder is that anyone was surprised by the results of the Argentinian presidential polls this week. Muricio Macri, the Republican Party presidential candidate, garnered the most votes, and his victory is forcing Argentina to answer the most pertinent questions in the political arena.

To what extent should social justice be given up for economic liberalisation? What can be done about the country’s disaffected and disgruntled majority? Argentina is South America’s second-largest economy, and it claims sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), a considerable chunk of Antarctica, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, territories claimed by Britain.

The Malvinas have been a bone of contention with Britain since the two countries went to war over the oil and natural gas-rich islands in 1982, when the then ruling Argentinian military clique decided to conquer and reclaim them. Relations improved in the 1990s when the then Argentinian president Carlos Menem paid an official visit to London, though Argentina has not given up its claim to the islands.

The presidential elections on 22 November ended the 12-year rule of Kirchnerism, associated with former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who ruled the country from 2007 until 2015 and was preceded by her late husband Nestor Kirchner. Both politicians began their careers as Peronist Youth (Juventud Peronista) members and have been loyal to Peronism, an Argentinian political movement based on the thought of former president Juan Domingo Peron and his second wife Eva.

Peron was the only Argentinian to have been elected president three times. He became president in 1946, and he and his wife Eva were charismatic leaders, especially among the poor and downtrodden. The Argentinian bourgeoisie and beau monde despised Peron, calling him an “upstart”.

Peronism, in much the same fashion as Nasserism in Egypt during the rule of late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, has traditionally been based on three pillars: social justice, economic independence, and political sovereignty. Conservatives and Liberals derided the Peron regime’s arbitrariness and dictatorial tendencies at the time and later, however, and this week’s elections mark an unprecedented comeback for the Conservatives in Argentinian politics.

The populism of the Peronists and the Kirchnerists has experienced a major setback. But the consequences of Macri’s victory do not stop at the door of Argentinian populists. Members of the Kirchnerist faction are invariably distinguished with the letter “K” as “Peronistas/justicialistas”, “radicales” and “socialistas”. The Anti-Kirchnerists are designated as Anti-K, criticising their opponents with the term setentista (“seventies-ists”).

Macri garnered 34.5 per cent of the vote in the first round of the elections, but in the second round picked up 51.40 per cent. His main rival, Daniel Scioli, managed 48.60 per cent. With 96 per cent of the votes counted, Scioli was marginally ahead with 36.7 per cent of the vote in the initial round of elections, and the opinion polls had suggested that Scioli would win by a wide margin. However, he was nevertheless forced to concede defeat.

The triumphant Conservatives will now harry the Peronists and Kirchnerists.”What happened today will change politics in this country,” Macri declared, though it is still not clear whether the result will impact Argentina’s foreign policy. The country has a Jewish population of over 200,000, the largest in Latin America, though in the aftermath of World War II Peron invited many Nazi war criminals to settle permanently in Argentina. It also has one of the largest Arab communities in Latin America, with former president Carlos Menem being of Syrian descent.

“Weather warfare” may have played a role in the elections, since in the run-up several cities in the Buenos Aires province suffered torrential rains and floods that Macri said were the result of poor urban planning under Scioli. The latter was in Italy during the downpours, and they cost him dearly. Argentina has been moving towards greater Latin American solidarity, and an air of anti-Western sentiment has meant that Buenos Aires has moved ideologically closer to Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela in recent years.

But despite the defeat of the Peronists and Kirchnerists, “I don’t see many signs that Kirchnerismo has run its course,” said Ignacio Ramírez, director of the polling firm Ibarometro. “The ideological climate hasn’t changed. You can’t win an election calling for re-privatisation and liberal economic reforms.”

So will Argentina now be stuck with a president who is unable to implement his party’s agenda? It is too early to judge and only time will tell. But the political uncertainty may spread from the internal workings of Argentinian politics to the country’s image abroad. If this happens, both the Peronists and the Kirchnerists in Buenos Aires will have to move away from just more airy talk.

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