The Numbers Game

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who succeeded her own husband as President in 2007 was long thought to be her spouse's puppet. However, Nestor Kirchner’s premature death in 2010 also coincided with his wife’s rise. She became the head of left wing of the Peronist party, a global political figure, and an emblem of success for many women around the world. After winning her second mandate on a landslide in 2011 (54 percent), Kirchner has started to see the tide turn against her. Her manipulation of Argentina’s official inflation statistics, populism, and hypothetical search for re-election might get the better of her initial popularity.

On September 14, thousands marched in Buenos Aires and around the country to express their fury at the government’s policies. They accused Kirchner of incompetence and populism: Her policies are said to put a huge burden on Argentina’s middle class. The main concern of the protesters was, as often is the case in Argentina, inflation. It is believed that inflation has soared above 25 percent a year, though official national figures present estimates of an inflation of 10 percent at most. Today, the IMF has given the country an ultimatum (December 17) to respond to skepticism of all international economists and agencies about its official figures. If the deadline is not met, Argentina may be censured by the IMF, and, even worse, forced to quit the IMF. Argentina is the only country of the G-20 that refuses to let the IMF to do its annual review of its economy. Despite its noncompliance, Argentina has repeatedly blamed the IMF for its economic troubles. The dubiousness of official statistics may be explained by Kirchner’s gradual replacing of most of the personnel of the national statistics agency (and even fining those who estimated the inflation rate too high). The incoherence of Kirchner’s policy is seen by the fact that though she refuses to acknowledge the real inflation rate, she has vastly increased her cash handouts to the poorest families in the country. Kirchner has responded that most of her opponents are well off and that her reforms were necessary for the lower strata of society -- in doing so she is dangerously distancing herself from the support of the country’s middle-class.

Moreover, there have been concerns about Kirchner’s aspirations to seek a third term as President in 2015, which would require her to get rid of term limits. Her main critic, Mr. Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, has stated, “No one is irreplaceable” and warned against “getting embroiled in things of the ego, meanness and individualism.” She has managed to undermine Mr. Macri by putting him in a difficult situation: She blamed him (on public TV through advertisements) for a 10-day strike of the Buenos Aires’ metro workers, with chaotic consequences and which resulted from ambiguous political schemes of both parties in the handover of the metro from the central government to the city.  However, for Mrs. Kirchner to change the constitution she would need a majority of two thirds in each house of congress: The elections of 2013 will be key in that respect. The growing discontent of the middle class means that this total will likely be difficult to attain: 58 percent of the population disapproves with her performance and more than 70 percent of the population now disagrees with the government’s economic policies. Perhaps a better management of the country’s inflation might come in handy, for the official statistics will undoubtedly some day be torn down.