By guest blogger Federico Pelayo, MPP 2013, University of Chicago
Last Sunday, October 23rd, over 20 million Argentine citizens went to the ballot box to elect the President and Vice President who will lead the country for the next four years. Voters also renewed the terms of half of the members of the House of Deputies and a third of the Senate as well as a myriad of gubernatorial, legislative, mayoral, council, and other races in at least nine of the 23 provinces.
The big winner of the day was President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner who, with nearly 54% of the vote, was re-elected in a landslide. This was widely expected, as the results mirror those of the August 14th primaries. Her performance was especially notable as she had a 37-point lead over the runner-up, socialist Hermes Binner, who received only 17% of the vote. They were followed by radical Ricardo Alfonsín, who received around 11%, and four other candidates (two of them Peronist like the President) who received less than 8% each. President Fernández de Kirchner will now govern the country until 2015. She and her late husband combined have ruled the nation since 2003.
The President’s triumph is particularly impressive given that she received the highest percentage of votes of any President within the current democratic period, which began in 1983. Moreover, she received the third-best result of any Presidential election, the first two being Juan Domingo Perón’s 1952 and 1973 elections. The President even won Buenos Aires, the traditionally elusive capital, by over a third of the vote. Her party, the Frente para la Victoria (Victory Front, a faction of the Justicialist, or Peronist, Party) will now have a majority in both houses of Congress, leaving the opposition without the means to check her power.
The President’s victory results from her mastery of machine politics. Her “model of accumulation with social inclusion”, as her statist and sometimes left-leaning policies are termed by her administration, is the foundation of her success. What the “model” means is dubious but could be summarized as a set of policies devised that: (a) buy the support of the poor through giveaways like childcare subsidies, price controls of unclear lawfulness, redistributive pension policies (that partially contradict Supreme Court rulings) and a bloated public payroll; (b) buy the support of the inefficient industrial sector through import tariffs and prohibitions (that routinely violate international trade law); and (c) buy the support of the urban population by heavily subsidizing transit and utilities.
The negative consequences of this “model” include an inefficient agricultural sector that is burdened by high export tariffs, as well as the world’s highest inflation rate adjusted in U.S. dollars. Voters seem to value the positive consequences of the “model”, namely a very high growth rate and a moderately low unemployment rate during the past eight years (helped by soaring commodity prices). In fact, Argentine voters did not penalize the President for failing to address crime (people’s primary concern, according to some surveys), for the numerous corruption scandals, or for doctoring inflation statistics. Other policies backed by the President, such as support for human rights and the legalization of gay marriage last year, might have played a role.