Latin America Advisor

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Can Fernández Win Argentina’s Presidency Again?

Argentine President Alberto Fernández and his Vice President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, are not on speaking terms and lambaste each other in public, Kezia McKeague writes below. // File Photo: Argentine Government. Argentine President Alberto Fernández and his Vice President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, are not on speaking terms and lambaste each other in public, Kezia McKeague writes below. // File Photo: Argentine Government.

Argentine President Alberto Fernández said on May 10 that he will be seeking re-election in next year’s presidential race. A Peronist, Fernández was recently able to restructure Argentina’s IMF debt in a $44 billion deal, although the politically charged talks exposed sharp fissures within the ruling coalition. How have Fernández’s approval ratings changed over the course of his presidency, and how much support does he have now? What are his biggest challenges leading up to next year’s elections, and what will be his primary campaign commitments? How will tensions within his Frente de Todos coalition affect his chances of a second presidential term?

Kezia McKeague, regional director at McLarty Associates: “President Fernández’s approval ratings have continued to fall since a peak at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Recent polling reflects societal perceptions of a weak president unable to unify his fractious governing coalition or address Argentina’s persistently high inflation. According to a poll this month by Poliarquía, Fernández’s personal approval rating has declined to 28 percent, while his negative rating has risen to 46 percent—the worst levels since he took office. The disaffected vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is also polling at historic lows. Despite minimal prospects for re-election, Fernández needs to say that he will be a candidate to stay relevant, while continuing to promise compliance with the International Monetary Fund agreement and improved economic growth. His principal challenges are twofold: the loss of purchasing power of Frente de Todos voters impacted by accelerating inflation and the coalition’s internal battles, which are worse than ever. Some analysts now reference two rival governments run by the president and the vice president, who are not on speaking terms and who lambaste each other in public. Yet they also need each other, because neither is likely to win a national election without the other. In sum, the outlook for the 2023 presidential elections is highly uncertain—we do not know if there will be a unified Peronist coalition nor who the candidate would be in that scenario. While the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition seems well positioned, it is also fragmented, with a candidate likely to be defined in next year’s primary elections, known as las PASO. It will also be worth watching the impact of libertarian politician Javier Milei as he seeks to capitalize on voters’ disillusionment with the political establishment.”

Bruno Binetti, nonresident fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue: “President Fernández announced his intention to run again as a show of strength against Vice President Cristina Kirchner, who wants him to step aside when his term is up. Kirchner thinks the government’s policies of fiscal consolidation, agreed with the IMF, will hurt the poor and lead to an electoral defeat for Peronism in 2023. It is very likely that Kirchner or a candidate she supports will challenge Fernández on a primary or break the coalition altogether and run against him in the general election. Right now, President Fernández faces an uphill battle: his approval numbers have dropped to less than 30 percent, inflation is accelerating and the coalition could collapse any moment. The government lacks a clear narrative or internal cohesion, focused on staying afloat and avoiding an all-out war with kirchnerism. The president hopes inflation will subside soon—Argentina’s modest economic recovery will continue, and moderate Peronists will have no choice but to support him to stop Cristina Kirchner from taking over the coalition. The problem for the president and the vice president is that they could be equally penalized by the electorate for their constant bickering amid economic hardship could be. While Cristina Kirchner remains more popular than the president, especially in the crucial province of Buenos Aires, her approval ratings have dropped sharply as well. Fernández and Kirchner could find it hard to disentangle the awkward coalition they helped put together in 2019.”

Carlos Fara, president of Carlos Fara & Asociados in Buenos Aires: “The president’s approval rating has been falling since mid-2020, after the first two months of the pandemic quarantine, which were its zenith. He currently has an approval rating of 32 percent, the lowest of his entire term. When you reach this level of persistent decline, recovery is very difficult. His two biggest challenges between now and the election are, firstly, the macro-economic order–above all controlling inflation–and secondly, resolving conflicts with the vice president. In both respects the outlook is quite negative. His main campaign commitment should certainly be for Argentina to have positive expectations once again about the economy, which has not happened for two years. A show of presidential leadership is key for the majority of society to believe that a second term of Alberto Fernández would be positive. But the prospects are negative because Cristina Fernández is willing to exercise her power to control it, even if that harms them both. So the only thing that could help him is for him to win a coalition primary against a candidate who represents her, as long as the Frente de Todos stays united.” 


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