Were the opposition in Argentina not as fragmentary and quarrelsome as it is now, times would be far more difficult for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, now that her popularity ratings have dropped sharply from the majority shown by the polls a year ago. As well as complaining to pollsters, the Argentinians have also begun to come out on the streets to protest against the policies — and the governing style — of a president who is becoming more and more confined in an ivory tower, relying on a youngish clique surrounding her son Máximo, and being openly hostile to any political discrepancy and any kind of journalism other than that offering servile praise.
The slump in a sustained economic boom, powered by agricultural exports, which, during recent years has enabled Argentina to grow by more than seven percent a year, is not the only source of the social malaise, though it is important in a country that desperately needs capital to meet billion-dollar due dates on its debts. The Argentineans who have come out on the street, making a noise by beating pots and pans — a heterogeneous middle class, very different from the “unpatriotic élite” that the official propaganda claims they are — have done so not only on account of the soaring cost of living and the stifling monetary controls; the protest is also about burgeoning crime on the streets, the inoperative public services, the growing sectarianism of the government (the use of the mechanisms of the state to persecute the opposition, the chief example being the media group Clarín), and the heavy-handed lying — especially, but not only, in economic matters — wielded as a tool of government. It is impossible to make a whole country believe that annual inflation stands at 10 percent, when the supermarket bill points implacably at 25 percent.
A third mandate?
If she wants the voters to back her, Fernández will have to change a lot of things before the 2013 legislative elections. Among other reasons, because the opposition to a reform of the Constitution, which would allow her to run for a third mandate in 2015, is one of the clearest messages in the protests. The Argentinean president has not publicly mentioned this possibility, for which she would require a rather unlikely two-thirds majority in both Chambers, but her political allies have done so. Yet it is a possibility favored by her taste for power, and her manifest indulgence toward other populist leaders in the region who have crowned themselves redeemers of their respective peoples, and have been signing up for the option of indefinite reelection, such as Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales.