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OP-ED | 06-03-2021 09:46

Two can also be a crowd

The convergence between president and vice-president, consolidated this week in favour of the latter’s line, carries the price of those who have always written off Alberto Fernández as a puppet standing vindicated.

Both prongs of the Frente de Todos presidency had a lengthy say last week – President Alberto Fernández in the 108 minutes of his state-of-the-nation speech to inaugurate the ordinary sessions of Congress last Monday and Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner with Thursday’s 50-minute war-cry against a “rotten and perverse” Judiciary – and it seems that not only the parliamentary year is beginning anew. A direct correlation between ideological convergence and the proximity of elections seems a constant within the ruling coalition but the convergence is moving in the opposite direction to the general elections two years ago with the moderate pragmatism to woo the middle ground displaced by more radical stances to offer answers to a desperate electorate.

Ironic that the two-term ex-president should choose the ‘dollar futures’ trial (arguably the weakest of the several cases against her) because it is the mirror image of what was the main new ground in the state-of-the-nation speech rather than the escalating diatribes against the judicial branch – namely, the proposal to launch legal action over the Mauricio Macri administration’s massive stand-by loan of 2018 from the International Monetary Fund (a lawsuit already in existence but dormant). 

Both cases are based on the dubious premise that the policies of an elected government can be taken to court. The case against Fernández de Kirchner is based on the dollars of the following year being absurdly underpriced in the last year of her presidency (2015) to the immense profit of a few but it is impossible to establish that this policy was motivated by greed or malice. How can anybody exclude this policy being a possibly naïve bid to defend the currency, along with a dogmatic faith in the incumbent party’s ability both to win the elections and continue sustaining an artificial exchange rate, rather than the more realistic devaluations which were to follow under Macri?

Similarly, the US$57 billion granted by the IMF (of which US$44 billion were drawn) is being presented as little more than daylight robbery although serious economists generally agree that it mostly went to servicing previous debt. Given that the Central Bank reserves when Frente de Todos took office in 2019 were also US$44 billion (almost doubling the reserves left Macri by Fernández de Kirchner in 2015), how can we be sure that there is zero overlap between these two identical sums?

The convergence between president and vice-president consolidated this week in favour of the latter’s line carries the price of those who have always written off Alberto Fernández as a puppet standing vindicated, which is always going to be a problem but especially in an ultra-presidential democracy like Argentina. This century began with a coalition administration – the Alliance basically consisting of the Radicals teaming up with left-wing Peronists disgusted by the late Carlos Menem’s neo-conservatism – which had winning numbers for an election but imploded in government. In 2003 (with five candidates polling between 14 and 24 percent) the Peronist faction of caretaker president Eduardo Duhalde running then-Santa Cruz governor Néstor Kirchner as its candidate eventually triumphed with 22 percent of the vote and immediately began co-opting Radicals, including then-Mendoza governor Julio Cobos, anointed vice-president in 2007 (a strategy which then Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernández considered his masterpiece). Macri equally needed a coalition to win the presidency, again with the Radicals prominent. This unsatisfactory combination of an ultra-presidential democracy and a coalition government has thus generally prevailed but for the first time (with the possible exception of Néstor Kirchner, who rapidly remedied the situation) the president does not form part of the dominant faction.

We could continue with the politics and polytricks but while the two prongs of the presidency seem to have found a common denominator in a judicial agenda and campaign priorities, would somebody please remind them that we have a coronavirus pandemic with almost 53,000 people dead, along with the devastating consequences of the double-digit economic shrinkage being posted for last year?                

 

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