While a permanent barrier to long-term governance, the democratic practice of biennial elections at least guarantees politicians something to focus every other year – their problems begin in the gap year when the onus falls on them to make themselves useful by producing something positive and this year they are being found sadly wanting. The blame here lies not only with a self-destructive government whose two wings are more interested in flapping against each other than in taking flight but also with a distinct lack of clear, constructive and convincing alternatives from any other political sector.
The current administration has no shortage of excuses for its lacklustre performance with such global adversities as the coronavirus pandemic and the Ukraine war but it could quite legitimately blame the internal criticism for its shortcomings if President Alberto Fernández did not shy away from open confrontation with his explosive veep. While herself implying obliquely that it is “her” government and sending out mouthpieces to say so far more directly, Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner simultaneously needs to be the opposition to a faltering administration yet to recover from its midterm defeat (and not helped by the backbiting) in order to conserve her Greater Buenos Aires electoral base now under threat but President Fernández continues to deny her that satisfaction. The critique is in many ways unfair because Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is not the best person to limit the blame for the electoral setbacks on a leader she personally handpicked and subsequently undermined, especially given her own record of four defeats in the last dozen years. Her criticism centres on what she perceives as disastrous economic policies with Economy Minister Martín Guzmán in the front of the firing-line but it remains far from clear what she would do differently other than spend all the money the government has (and does not have as well) with the problems arising from too few controls and taxes rather than too many.
Yet the stagflation persisting over the last decade also includes four years of a centre-right government, a reproach which the Juntos por el Cambio opposition can only surmount with not just more self-criticism than forthcoming until now but also by offering the electorate a clear, constructive and convincing alternative. This is a steeply uphill task requiring more than consensus which is already elusive enough – not only because of differing economic philosophies within a coalition ranging from social democrats to market fundamentalists not far removed from the thinking of maverick libertarian Javier Milei, but also because of disagreements over electoral strategy. Some think that the drastic reforms required for economic transformation will need the broadest support possible while others interpret the public mood as already containing a clear majority in favour of those reforms (hence the noise around Milei) which would not forgive the opposition if those shock economic policies were diluted in order to broaden the coalition. But even if consensus could miraculously be achieved over all these points, drafting a detailed plan for a post-2023 Argentina looks like a non-starter amid a volatile local economy and a rapidly changing world – disasters like the pandemic and the Ukraine war have served to hide as much as reflect how fast this planet is changing with all the technological advances, not to mention the challenges of climate change.
Opposition leaders and ultra-Kirchnerites are united in rubbishing the Alberto Fernández presidency with much conviction, especially on the economic front, but the jury is still out. As things now stand, the Frente de Todos government is on course to have two years of economic growth as against one for the preceding 2015-2019 Mauricio Macri presidency – economists might argue with reason that this achievement is mainly due to pandemic rebound and that the current growth is highly vulnerable to bottlenecks arising from inflation and alarmingly static Central Bank reserves but if the score remains 2-1, numerous voters will settle for a simple comparison. Dire electoral and economic forecasts aside, nothing is over until it is over as they like to say in the sporting world (with last Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final a case in point).
But whatever the opposition perplexity, the main responsibility lies with a dysfunctional government plagued by dual leadership which urgently needs to set itself on some course. Peronism has often thrived on divisions in the past but now needs to be reminded of the original wording of the maxim – united we stand, divided we fall.