May 24, 2013
The year ahead
The obvious thing to say about a brand-new 2013 is that it will be an electoral year but then that is something which could be said about every other year since 1983 (all the ones with odd numbers) — perhaps the real significance of October’s midterm elections is to highlight the remarkable achievement of 30 continuous years of democracy and ponder whether this institutional continuity is in any way at stake in this year’s electoral verdict. At first sight the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration has little to lose because it could hardly do worse than in the 2009 midterm elections, which will be the seats going to the polls this year, but in many ways everything hinges on the result.
If last year’s landslide can be repeated, the CFK administration would have a chance of sidestepping its problems of succession by embarking on a constitutional reform to permit a third term for the incumbent but anything less would necessitate a Plan B.
This could take the form of handpicking a successor to maximize continuity under the aegis of the outgoing leader (with all the less conviction in CFK’s case recalling how rapidly the kingmaker role of Eduardo Duhalde evaporated the last time this strategy was attempted, once the Kirchner presidencies were underway) — but it could also lead to the Kirchnerites throwing the institutional rules out of the window if they do not allow for a third term by gunning for a plebiscite.
In economic terms electoral years are generally associated with electioneering or more lavish public spending and thus growth of the short-term, consumer-led variety if nothing better — in any case 2013 is generally expected to enjoy more growth than a stagnant 2012 largely because of Brazilian pickup and a bumper soy harvest. Yet none of these assumptions may be correct. The free-spending style of Kirchner administrations might finally have run into the limits of sustainability. Not only is there virtually no fiscal margin but inflation may have become an electoral liability — it especially punishes the poorer classes (the core of the Kirchnerite vote) while the past year’s experience has destroyed the argument that it is the price of growth. The tight-fisted austerity in vogue in some of Europe and so deplored by CFK might well be the shape of things to come. As for the “condemned to success” (to quote Duhalde) forecasts for 2013, never rule out the capacity of the CFK administration to come up with cures worse than the disease.
But every prophesy for 2013 is an invitation to be proven wrong — even that it will be a decisive year.