Alberto Fernández: Economic Reformer or Kirchner-Style Authoritarian
After Alberto Fernandez's strong showing in primary elections, Argentina is on edge, as it considers the path the he will take in the Casa Rosada.
All the numbers indicate that Alberto Fernández will be the next president of the Argentine Republic. His 15 point margin of victory over Mauricio Macri in the primary on August 11 seems to have determined the course of history. Although there is still caution on both sides and everyone recognizes that anything could still happen, the situation has prompted a diversity of speculation about the direction of a potential Fernández government.
On the one hand, especially from the sectors linked to Macri, there is fear that the return of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (who is running as Alberto’s vice presidential candidate) may mean a return to authoritarianism. But other voices, much more optimistic, say that the administration of Alberto Fernandez may prove to be like that of another Peronist from the late eighties: Carlos Saúl Menem.
Reasons for Optimism
The candidate of the Front of All, addressing fears surrounding his eventual government, especially given his candidate for vice president, made some statements seeking to allay these fears. In a television interview he said he has “a capitalist model” in mind, criticized the “authoritarianism” of Chavismo and said he does not intend to “close the economy.” Regarding the possibility of Argentina falling back into default, he said:
“No one has suffered from the default more than me, because I drove to Argentina into default. I can help by giving these certainties that I am not a person who lies. What I say I’ll do, I do. I am responsible and serious. I was the only one who ensured that Argentina did not spend more money than it took. During all of my public service.”
The presence of the “orthodox” Guillermo Nielsen as one of his main economic advisers, who has even butted heads with powerful Kirchneristas such as Axel Kicillof, is another of the reasons that excite Fernandez’s optimists.
But not all signs are good
Beyond the fear of Kirchner presiding over the Senate and being second in the chain of command, Alberto is also setting off some alarms. Today, using the pretext of “fake news”, Fernandez anticipated a law that regulates internet content. For the winner of the primaries, “misinformation” can “manipulate” people. Although he clarified that he has nothing in mind that does not already exist in Europe, the ghost of Kirchnerism, which wanted to annihilate the independent press, is very present.
Another issue that generated harsh criticism in recent hours was Fernandez’s promise to increase the number of ministries. Faced with an extremely delicate fiscal situation, with the need to reduce expenses instead of increasing them, Fernandez’s intent to expand state bureaucracies appears to be cause for alarm. He wants to return the status of ministry to Science and Technology, increase the budget of the Ministry of Culture and create a ministry of “equality”, focused on the situation of women.
The authoritarian danger
Beyond the ambiguous signs of the candidate, there are two issues to consider: Argentina has no room to postpone the necessary reforms. Alberto is not dumb. The monetary policy of Argentina has the potential to wreak havoc. Bringing the hand of the Central Bank closer to the printing presses is synonymous with automatic hyperinflation. There is no capacity to increase the debt, but quite the opposite: there are plenty of doubts about the government’s ability to service its current debt levels. Tax cuts seem a remote possibility, so orthodoxy seems mandatory, as long as Alberto wants to reach a successful political outcome, of course.
Beyond the economic context, the importance of Kirchner in Alberto’s administration should not be understated. Cristina Kirchner “put together” the lists of legislative candidates. If he wants to strengthen his power and independence, he will need to expand his influence in other sectors, not just with those that led him to the presidency of the nation.