Argentina: Socialist President Backs Out of Election, Throwing Race into Disarray

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez waves as he arrives to the opening session of Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. Fernandez announced on April 21, 2023 that he will not seek re-election in October elections. (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)
Natacha Pisarenko/AP

Alberto Fernández, the president of Argentina, announced this weekend that he will not be a candidate in the 2023 presidential election.

Under Fernández’s far-left presidency, Argentina’s already difficult economic situation has taken a turn for the worse. The country faces soaring inflation, a crumbling currency, near non-existent foreign reserves, and growing dependence on China, which has taken advantage of the situation to exert further pressure on the South American nation.

Argentina will hold general elections on October 22, 2023, to elect the nation’s new president, Congress members, and regional governors in most of the country’s provinces. Fernández’s decision puts the ruling Frente de Todos (“Front for All”) political coalition in a difficult situation, as it must now scramble to find a new presidential candidate.

Fernández, who assumed office in December 2019, announced his decision in a nearly eight-minute video posted on his official Twitter account on Friday morning. In the video, Fernández describes his presidency as wrought with shortcomings.

“It is clear that we did not achieve everything we set out to do,” Fernández said. “We are hurt by the projects and dreams that could not be realized.” 

The Argentine president said he would “hand over the presidential sash [an Argentine traditional item] to whoever has been elected at the polls by the popular vote” when the next Argentine presidential term begins on December 10, 2023, adding that he “will work to make him or her a partner of our political space.”

Fernández did not explicitly say he would not run for office again, but his office, the Pink House, later confirmed to reporters that he indeed would not present himself for re-election.

During an interview with Argentine radio station Nacional Rock on Monday, President Fernández said that both Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (no relation) and Argentine Economy Minister Sergio Massa may run as candidates to replace him. Fernández did not name his preferred candidate, instead insisting that his “concern is that the right wing does not govern Argentina again.”

Argentina’s current vice president and former two-term President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a radical leftist allied with the neighboring regimes of Cuba and Venezuela, was originally poised to be Frente de Todos‘ candidate for the upcoming presidential election for a third term — until she announced in December that she would not be “a candidate for anything” and that her name “will not be on any ballot” after an Argentine federal court sentenced her to six years in prison on corruption charges.

Fernández de Kirchner is unlikely to serve any prison time, as her position as both the nation’s vice president and head of the nation’s senate may grant her dual immunity from the court’s ruling on appeal.

Kirchner supporters marched over the weekend to encourage the former president to run again. Fernández de Kirchner has not publicly commented at press time on whether she will uphold her December vows, in which she said she would not run again, or change her mind and run for president again.

The Argentine left faces a significant challenge from the populist right at the polls this year.

According to a survey by the firm Opina Argentina, published by the Clarín newspaper on Sunday, firebrand anti-communist libertarian lawmaker Javier Milei is leading the presidential race with 14 percent support. Another 30 percent said they were considering, but not committing to, voting for Milei’s Liberty Advances coalition in October’s election. The survey showing Milei leading was conducted before Alberto Fernández announced he would not run, meaning Fernández’s presumed incumbency advantage was a factor in those results.

Milei became a popular fixture on Argentine cable news for disparaging politicians as parasites and condemning socialism as an ideology of hatred and resentment before running for a seat in the Argentine Congress. Despite identifying as a “liberal,” the term typically used in South America for economic libertarians, he has promised not to expand trade with China: “I don’t do business with communists.”

Support for Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, despite having announced that she would not run for a third term, ranges between 14-28 percent, according to the poll.

Argentina’s constitution states that a president is elected to serve for a four-year term and can only be re-elected consecutively once. Any president that has served for two consecutive terms may run for election again after at least a one-term interval has passed. The Argentine constitution does not limit how many times a candidate may run for president if they are successful.

So far, over ten candidates have committed to running for president of Argentina as of April. Argentina requires all would-be candidates to participate in a nationwide process known as PASO (Simultaneous and Mandatory Open Primaries).

All Argentine political parties must participate in the PASO primaries, even if a party only has one candidate or a single candidate list. Participation of the Argentine electorate in the nationwide primaries is mandatory, and they may vote for any candidate of any party or coalition regardless of their own affiliation but may only cast a single vote during the process. 

The corresponding PASO primaries for the upcoming October 22 general election are slated to take place on August 13.

The October election will take place as the country endures a precarious economic situation that has dramatically worsened throughout the past year. Argentina has an inter-annual inflation rate of 104.3 percent and an accumulated inflation rate of 21.7 percent as of March. The country’s foreign reserves are near-dry, which prompted the Argentine government to impose restrictions on imports to postpone its corresponding payments last week.

The value of the nation’s currency, the Argentine peso, continues to rapidly lose value against the U.S. dollar, breaking the historical record of 411-423 pesos for a single dollar last week. The Argentine government attempted to ease the demise of its currency by maintaining a convoluted multi-tier currency exchange system that now features over fifteen different types of exchange rates, some of which have specific uses, such as the “Soy Dollar,” a preferential exchange rate only available to soy exports.

Fernández’s presidency has made the South American nation increasingly dependent on China. Argentina, which officially joined China’s predatory debt trap Belt and Road Initiative program in February 2022, has received at least $111.8 billion in Chinese “rescue” funds as of 2021, according to a report published in March.

After Fernández met with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping in November, China provided Argentina’s Central Bank with a $5 billion currency swap deal to boost its dwindling foreign reserves.

Fernández and his government’s notoriously pro-China stance has, in turn, allowed China to exert increased pressure on the country, taking advantage of Argentina’s dire situation to take control of its strategic sectors.

Despite being the biggest recipient of Chinese funds by a large margin, Fernández traveled to the United States in March to meet with President Joe Biden, asking him to intercede on behalf of Argentina with international finance organizations as Argentina held talks with the International Monetary Fund to review the terms of its $44 billion debt with the organization.

Fernández’s mishandling of Argentina’s economy has translated into his government reaching the highest level of rejection in the last 17 years, according to a poll carried out by Argentine polling agency Poliarquía. The poll’s results show that the presidential disapproval rating reached 71 percent, with only 16 percent expressing a positive evaluation of the Frente de Todos coalition’s government.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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