Argentina Measures The Political Price Of Financial Crisis
A worsening economy in Argentina may cause political shifts before the 2019 presidential elections.
BUENOS AIRES —Economic, social or political affairs never exist in a vacuum. The ways each affects the other winds up creating, deepening or appeasing any given crisis.
Argentina's shaky economic conditions will likely have an impact on general elections scheduled for October 2019. And in the meantime, while the economy is expected to bounce back before then, there is no assurance that ordinary people will feel its benefits and decide to vote for the sitting government of President Mauricio Macri. Indeed, public sentiment may worsen between now and then.
The economy can decisively affect and even hasten social developments. The effects of price devaluation can hit within weeks, while job creation may take months to affect the public mood. A year ahead of elections, the economy is causing poverty, unemployment, and the income gap to worsen. Social conflict works, in turn, through a "spring mechanism" with accumulated tensions and a trigger, which is always difficult to identify. In Argentina, social tensions started rising in April when market volatility began about six months ago.
Argentinian trade unions take to the streets — Photo: Patricio Murphy/Zuma
Trade unions and social movements have meanwhile organized several important protests, which, for the moment, have contained and channeled these tensions, avoiding an eruption.
By late September, these movements converged in national-scale protests. In recent weeks, social organizations led gatherings outside different government headquarters and backed hardline trade-union sectors in strikes and other actions on September 24. They were also participants in the general strike of September 25.
Just being in power can assure you as much as a third of all votes.
This is President Macri's fourth general strike, and the second in three months. The question is, if — or when — social protests will spill over. In the 72 hours between August 31 and September 3, for example, there were 21 reported lootings or attempted lootings in seven provinces, leading to 160 arrests. One teenager was killed in Sáenz Peña in northern Argentina. These are alarms on social protests coming out of the "structures."
Politics has its own calendar. One may assume that Cambiemos, the presidential party, will be a competitive option in next year's election. Just being in power can ensure as much as a third of all votes, even in adverse conditions. That could take the party to a second round. The last president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, will probably be running in spite of the half-dozen court cases she faces, perhaps heading a "personal" coalition, as she did in 2017. A third space may belong to anti-Kirchner: Peronism, the social-democratic movement from which Mrs. Kirchner emerged. It is already calling itself "federal" (though others qualify it as "rational") and presently leaderless and without a candidate. But it seems a valid alternative, with the economy working against Cambiemos and corruption tainting the Kirchner crowd.
A second round between Cambiemos and Kirchner's movement would favor the government, as anti-Kirchner Peronism could split between the two. But the government should be wary of a second round between itself and non-Kirchner Peronists. Kirchner herself could neutralize the benefits of an economic improvement for the government.
Yes indeed, the old dictum holds about the decisive connection between economic, social and political forces. We just have to wait until 2019 to see how it all plays out.