OPINION: Left's return to power in Argentina an indicator to Latin America's future

Right wing pundits, who wrote obituaries for left, need to re-examine the new reality

ARGENTINA-POLITICS-VOTE Argentina's president elect Alberto Fernandez [right] delivers a speech next to his vice-president elected Cristina Fernandez [left] and Buenos Aires Governor elected Axel Kicillof [second left] at the party's headquarters in Buenos Aires | AFP

In the recently concluded Argentina elections, leftist Alberto Fernandez has beaten rightist president Mauricio Macri, the posterboy of neoliberalism. Alberto of the Peronist party has been elected the new president of Argentina. 

A moderate and pragmatic leftist who believes in dialogue and negotiated solutions, Alberto is much different from his vice president-elect Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who is ideologically rigid, polarising and confrontational. But Alberto does not have a charisma of his own and he could not have won without the support of the hardcore Peronists. So he is well aware of the central line he has to follow carefully.

Ex-president Cristina, now in her new avatar as vice president, will enjoy Congressional immunity from the many corruption prosecutions against her. While her charismatic Evita-like ego needs to be massaged by Alberto, she is conscious that she could not have won the election on her own. She was the culprit who ruined the economy in her second term due to which Peronism was defeated in 2015.

It is not a landslide win for Peronism. Macri managed to get 40 per cent votes as against the 48 per cent of Alberto. Macri’s party has won with a solid 55 per cent votes and retained mayorship of Buenos Aires city. Macri himself was a mayor for two terms and the city is under the administration of Macri’s party continuously since 2007.

In the congressional elections for the lower house, Peronists have won 120 seats as against the 119 of Macri's party. The Peronists need outside support to pass legislation since 129 votes are needed for majority in the house of 257. In the senate, Peronists have managed to get a simple majority with 37 seats out of a total of 72, while Macri's party has got 29. The strength of the opposition in the Congress means that Peronists cannot impose their agenda. They would need the support of other parties. 

Argentina will need all the skills of Alberto to face the massive challenges of the 57 billion dollar IMF debt, high inflation, interest rates and currency depreciation, besides poverty and other basic developmental issues. It is not going to be easy. Argentina will have to go through acute pain in the coming months and the next couple of years. The internal pain will be made more acute by the Washington-Wall Street Financial mafia and the vulture funds who will try to take their pound of flesh and bleed Argentina. Alberto would need the courage and craziness of his former boss Nestor Kirchner who restructured the debt successfully on his own with his unbelievable offer of 30 cents to a dollar. Having been involved in Kirchner’s extraordinary manoeuvers as his chief of staff in 2002, Alberto knows well the challenges and the tricks.

The election result is not a surprise. Macri knew what was coming in the last one year. Poverty and inflation had increased in his term and the economy was moving inexorably towards crisis. He could not stop them. But it is not his personal fault. He is sensible and reasonable. It is a systemic flaw. He followed Neoliberalism and kept full faith in the free market. But these have no solutions for poverty and underdevelopment. 

Macri’s fellow neoliberal president Pinera of Chile has just been taught a lesson and humbled by the protests in the last week. Pinera has sought forgiveness from those neglected by his free market policies. 

Pity, the Latin American neoliberalists have forgotten the lesson of the eighties when the Washington Consensus resulted in increase of poverty and inequality and the “Lost Decade” for the region.

The leftist coalition candidate has won the maximum number of votes in the presidential elections in Uruguay held on Saturday. It is a reward for the moderate and pragmatic policies of the left, which has been in power continuously in the last two decades.

Also in Bogota, a centre-left Claudia Lopez, who is openly gay, got elected as mayor in the elections held on Saturday.

It is important to note that the left had also made mistakes and lost power to the right in the previous elections in Brazil, Chile and Peru. Chavez and Maduro have ruined Venezuela in the name of socialism. Ortega has perverted democracy in Nicaragua. Morales has created uncertainty for Bolivia. 

Socialism is not a 100 per cent cure. It inhibits creation of wealth and jobs by private sector. Not only that, the leftists need moderation and balance. They need to be flexible and have to adopt themselves to the reality in each country.

The victory of the Argentine left is a challenge to President Bolsonaro in Brazil who has Peronists in his hatred list. He had made strong statements against them during his visit to Argentina. Bolsonaro had even hinted about possible withdrawal from Mercosur, if the Peronists came to power. 

Alberto greeted ex-President Lula on his birthday Saturday and mentioned that his extraordinary friend has been put in jail unjustly. He has called for the release of Lula. This is a red rag to the Bolsonaro bull. 

Predictably, Bolsonaro has said that the Argentine voters had chosen wrongly and that he would not send congratulatory message to Alberto. He described Alberto's call for release of Lula as an affront to Brazilian justice system. Brazilian foreign minister Araujo went further ahead and said, "Argentina’s new leaders would usher in an era of “retrograde” economic policies and support for dictatorships. The indications are the worst possible... The forces of evil are celebrating.”

Alberto had earlier called Bolsonaro a racist, misogynist and a violent person who favours tortures. But Alberto needs to be careful with Brazil, the most important trade partner for Argentina. Trade with Brazil is more than the combined trade with China and the US. The Argentine industry and economy are deeply integrated with Brazil in the framework of Mercosur.

The election results of Argentina, Uruguay and Bogota are a moral boost for the region’s left and especially to presidents Maduro and Morales who remain isolated. In the next elections in Brazil and Chile, the left has a chance to come back. Mexico has already elected lefist Lopez Obrador as president in 2018.

Those right wing pundits, who wrote obituaries of the left and cheered the return of the right, need to reexamine the new reality of Latin America which needs centrist solutions. The developing countries, including Latin America, need a balanced mix of pro-poor and business-friendly policies as practiced by Lula. This mix is called Lulaism or Brasilia Consensus. 

The author is the former Indian ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK