argentina goes right
The Mess the Left Left

Argentina’s outgoing President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is doing her best to frustrate the plans of her successor and political opponent, Mauricio Macri. The New York Times reports:

In her last days in office, she has appointed ambassadors and signed decrees that will drain federal coffers. Her political appointees refuse to resign. She has even antagonized her successor with stinging remarks at public appearances.

After eight years as president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner clears out her office at the presidential palace on Thursday. But far from preparing the ground for Mauricio Macri, the president-elect, she is obstructing the transition in a final show of muscle, observers say.

“It is by no means a smooth transition,” said Dante Caputo, a former foreign minister. “And it’s not a transition that protects the well-being of the nation. Rather, Mrs. Kirchner seems irritated about having to hand over power, and she’s expressing it by taking decisions that jeopardize Argentina’s delicate economic situation.”

After the global commodities collapse and years of failed policies from the Leftist Kirchners, Argentina’s near-term prospects aren’t good. Further, the government’s systemic meddling with official statistics makes it impossible to estimate how bad things really are. Now, the poor economic conditions that propelled the centrist Macri to office will become his responsibility.

That is, of course, how elections go, but circumstances mean Argentina is a particularly thorny case. Kirchner is making Macri’s job considerably harder by the efforts the NYT story highlights, but his biggest challenges weren’t created by these last-minute hijinks. Instead, they come from the bureaucracy Kirchner has spent years engorging. Most government officials are going to be Kirchner appointees, or will have started their careers under Kirchner or her husband. The deep state of labor unions and state-owned enterprises run on corrupt clientelism. That system isn’t going to disappear quickly no matter how good of a politician Macri turns out to be. Moreover, the country’s Congress is still Peronist, and Macri will need its stamp of approval if he wants to start passing even basic reforms.

But there’s yet another challenge: The Kirchners came to power because Argentina wasn’t doing so well in the late 90s and early 00s. The center-Right politicians who ruled Argentina before the Kirchners didn’t deliver growth for most of their constituents. Indeed, this is generally the problem for countries like Argentina (Venezuela, which is experiencing its own rightward shift, should take note). The populists aren’t good at governing, but they come to power because their predecessors weren’t either. One reason that socialist leaders or parties appeals to voters is that the alternative parties failed to govern well. In Latin America, center-Right politicians often form oligarchical regimes.

So while Peronism must fall if Argentina is to see reform, Kirchner’s loss doesn’t guarantee that a better future is ahead. For things to improve, Macri will need to fight the deep legacy of Kirchner—and also develop a better version of market-based development than his center-Right predecessors ever did.

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