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Argentina’s Democratic Dynasty

Author: Stephanie Hanson
Updated: October 29, 2007

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Political dynasties, long familiar to democracies, seem to be assuming a newly feminine face. In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto seeks reelection as prime minister, eleven years after she lost the post and three decades after her father, who also served as prime minister, was deposed and executed. Another high-profile female politician, U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, is currently vying (New Yorker) for her husband’s former role as president. After winning October 28 polls, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner stands ready to assume the presidency of Argentina (NYT), a post currently held by her husband, Nestor Kirchner. Cristina benefited from her husband’s popularity, but the dynasty issue also raises questions and concerns.

First, analysts wonder whether the Kirchners intend to rotate the presidency, a possibility under Argentina’s constitution. Nor has Cristina offered many clues as to whether her policy will differ substantially from her husband’s. Argentina’s current Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez explains (Americas Program) that Cristina’s campaign has been able to ride on some of her husband’s successes: “The best campaign is the administration of the current government,” says Fernandez.

Yet a significant reason for that administration’s popularity—Argentina’s strong economic growth—might prove to be the source of Cristina’s biggest political challenges. Argentineans are increasingly upset about the country’s management and manipulation of high inflation rates—reported at 8.6 percent annually but thought by outside economists to be roughly twice that figure (AP). According to the government’s statistics office, the poverty rate, which was at 57 percent in 2002, has now decreased to 23 percent, but this is still higher than the poverty rate was in the 1990s.

The Economist says “big doubt” remains about whether Cristina will take the actions needed to “engineer a soft landing for the economy,” which has racked up annual growth of over 8 percent for the past four years. But Eugenio Diaz-Bonilla, an Argentine diplomat appointed as executive director for Argentina at the Inter-American Development Bank,writes on RGE Monitor’s Latin America blog that Argentina’s next government will be able to “recalibrate what may be necessary” without causing a fiscal crisis.

Most analysts expect Cristina to be more involved in foreign policy than her husband. President Kirchner raised international hackles with his uncompromising attitude toward the renegotiation of Argentina’s debt after its 2001 economic collapse. Cristina has spent the last several months shuttling between meetings with foreign and business leaders trying to spur foreign investment in her country. In a recent interview with TIME, she said she wants to “reassert Argentina on the world stage.”

Some analysts speculate that Cristina might distance herself from Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez and seek closer ties with the United States, but her own statements seem to indicate a different tack: “Let me reiterate that no one selects Argentina’s friends but Argentina. President Kirchner, [Brazilian President] Lula, Chavez, are all in sync with regard to the need to integrate into our own regional bloc,” she told TIME. Likewise, an Economist Intelligence Unit briefing cautions that Cristina Kirchner could fall into a trap if she focuses too exclusively on foreign relations. The article notes that her travels already prompt criticism at home and leave Argentineans wondering: “What about us?”

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