The Legacy of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina

Analysis by Fiona GESKES

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner - by presidencia.gov.ar, licensed under CC BY 2.0
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner – presidencia.gov.ar, licensed under CC BY 2.0

This past Sunday saw Argentinians heading to the polling booths to elect a new President.  Whilst the results of this election have led to a surprise run off race in November, on the  anniversary of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s (CFK) first election victory eight years ago, it seems appropriate to take a look back at the often colourful Presidency of CFK, Argentina’s first female President. CFK is a divisive character who won 43% of the vote in 2007 with a 22% lead over her nearest rival, Elisa Carrió. It was widely understood that CFK would stay in line with her husband’s, President Nestor Kirchner, left-wing policies. Nestor Kirchner had led the Argentinian economy from the enduring recession in 2003 to 50% growth and the halving of the unemployment rate. This coupled with his defiance of the IMF made him a national hero.

CFK stayed true to her husband’s left wing policies and arguably her most successful policy, praised by both her supporters and opponents, is the child-care allowance, which covers 85% of Argentinian children, specifically targeting children of unemployed parents and informal workers. This policy proposal was designed under co-ordination from several actors, including unions, politicians and social actors and was closely linked to healthcare policies. Furthermore, it is thought to have widespread effects on healthcare coverage and falling poverty numbers. In short it was an important political victory for CFK.

However, CFK’s economic record is much more divisive. In 2011, she was re-elected in light of the economic prosperity Argentina was experiencing, but even then there were signs of uncertainty. These uncertainties manifested themselves in the President’s second term. In 2014, Argentina entered its first recession since that of 2001-2002. For many, the underlying problem – and one which has been very much present for the past decade – has been inflation, with official Argentinian numbers differing vastly from the numbers released by the IMF. While the economy seems to have saved itself from falling into a full blown recession last year, it is fair to claim that CFK has not had a glowing record in economic leadership despite her stunning re-election result in 2011. Indeed it would appear that she is leaving office when the Argentine economy threatens to crumble again. It will be no easy task for the next President.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announces a bill to dissolve the Secretariat of Intelligence in the wake of Alberto Nisman's death - presidencia.gov.ar, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announces a bill to dissolve the Secretariat of Intelligence in the wake of Alberto Nisman’s death – presidencia.gov.ar, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

While the economic record of CFK may have been damaging to her legacy, it is the bizarre case of a murdered prosecutor in January 2015 and the whispers of aiding an Iranian cover up following the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, which have been most damaging for the President. Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who has raised allegations against Fernandez in regards to the 1994 bombing, was mysteriously shot dead in January 2015, and it was CFK’s reaction and the flip flopping of her positions, which has driven her approval ratings down and which threaten to define her Presidency even after she abdicates.

What remains is the question whether Argentina has seen the last of Fernandez or whether a Presidential run in 2019 can be expected from her. It is no secret that prior to Nestor Kirchner’s sudden death during her first term, it was widely believed he was going to run again to take over from his wife, building a political dynasty as such. CFK has not shied away from the campaign trail this time around and her fate will certainly be determined by how the country votes in the run off in November, and whether the electorate is done with ‘Kirchnerismo’. CFK’s chosen successor, Daniel Scioli, was widely believed to win an outright victory this past Sunday, but perhaps the Argentinian electorate has different ideas. Whatever they may be, they will have implications for CFK’s own political future.

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