President Nestor Kirchner
In the first round of the presidential election on April 27, 2003, former President Carlos Menem (PJ) won 24.3% of the vote, Santa Cruz Governor Nestor Kirchner (PJ) won 22%, followed by smaller party/alliance candidates Ricardo Lopez Murphy with 16.4% and Elisa Carrio with 14.2%. Menem withdrew from the May 25 runoff election after polls showed overwhelming support for Kirchner in the second round of elections.
After taking office, Kirchner focused on consolidating his political strength and alleviating social problems. He pushed for changes in the Supreme Court and military and undertook popular measures such as raising government salaries, pensions, and the minimum wage. On October 23, 2005, President Kirchner, bolstered by Argentina's rapid economic growth and recovery from its 2001-2002 crisis, won a major victory in the midterm legislative elections, giving him a strengthened mandate and control of a legislative majority in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.
The Argentine political system places a great deal of authority into the hands of the President, and President Kirchner was a strong president even in the Argentine historical context. As a result, the "K-Style" defined the policymaking process and gave the policy process a short-term focus. President Nestor Kirchner's personalistic, often erratic operating and decision-making style defined Argentine policymaking, characterized by an overarching focus on the short-term and politically expedient accumulation and maintenance of domestic political power. Kirchner's domestic political style left no room for dissent and utilized divide-and-conquer tactics to weaken the political opposition.
Since the October 2005 legislative elections, Kirchner passed from being a transition figure bringing political and economic stability to Argentina after a serious crisis, to another in a long line of Argentine hegemonic leaders. Kirchner's moves to largely strip the Argentine Congress of its budget-making authority and increase his control over the Judiciary, as well as his vocal attacks on unfriendly journalists, all fit within the Argentine hegemonic leader mold. Unable to check Kirchner's actions, the weak and divided political opposition lacked any real authority in the political system. Unlike past hegemonic leaders, however, Kirchner did not face the threat of a military intervention in politics.
While utilizing leftist, populist rhetoric at times, in practice Kirchner demonstrated that his ideological leanings were always less important than the practicalities of domestic politics.
Kirchner controlled the national discourse by never holding press conferences, and newspapers acted as tools of the government by not publishing stories because of government pressure or by publishing reports that Kirchner's people had drafted. Kirchner was perhaps the only leader in the world that did not meet with his cabinet, leaving him unadvised on many issues. Furthermore, the people around Kirchner were afraid to tell him when things may not be going well. He "jumps" on issues without thinking of a strategy first, making his politics and his governing very reactive and short term.
Kirchner's psychological profile included a need to always be in control, quick and decisive decision making, a constant struggle against perceived enemies, and a tendency to respond to challenges by lashing out, rather than negotiation. Kirchner's health condition exacerbated, and perhaps helped define, Kirchner's emotions and psychology. President Kirchner had reportedly suffered from irritable bowel syndrome for many years.
According to the American Medical Association, the psychological effects of this condition leads those who suffer from it to be "often rigid, methodical persons who are conscientious, with obsessive-compulsive tendencies." Kirchner also reportedly worked himself to exhaustion and needed to take frequent vacations to recover. The AMA further states "Psychologic and social stresses are often present in patients with irritable bowel syndrome, and may be related in a temporal sense to the exacerbation of symptoms." This may account for Kirchner's lack of attention to protocol that involved long ceremonies or tight schedules, where Kirchner would not have quick access to a bathroom.
Following the 2001-2002 crisis, most Argentines wanted a strong state that would ensure economic recovery and political stability. Kirchner has met those goals. Kirchner's verbal attacks against the IMF and foreign leaders and their policies were popular with an Argentine public that felt they were victimized by foreign interests during the recent economic crisis. There was a general feeling among Argentines that the country was humiliated during the crisis, which significantly increased anti-US sentiment in Argentina, fueled more by jealousy than a sense that the US did not help Argentina during the crisis.
Kirchner restructured Argentina's foreign debt, encouraged agricultural exports, and boosted foreign currency reserves. Argentina logged vibrant economic growth of 8 percent or higher in each of the four years he was in office. He also reshuffled Argentina's Supreme Court and backed judicial reform, facilitating the prosecution of dozens of figures from Argentina's past military dictatorship for human rights abuses.
Kirchner was no ideologue, but rather a pragmatic populist. What played well with the Peronist majority is what got done in Argentina. He was very good at marginalizing many of his potential opponents. It was all about opportunism and populism.
Foreign policy in the Kirchner government was always subservient to domestic political considerations. President Kirchner was not skilled at international diplomacy and often ignored basic protocol. Kirchner relied on an ever-shrinking group of long-time advisors to make key decisions, many of whom lacked international, business and economic expertise.
Although Kirchner enjoyed approval ratings of over 60%, he announced in July 2007 that he would not seek re-election and backed his wife, then-Senator Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, as the candidate to succeed him. Even as "First Husband", Mr. Kirchner continued to exert tremendous influence.
Kirchner's weakening of democratic institutions actually made the political system more unstable over the long term and that his economic policies eventually led to economic decline and another crisis. Nestor Kirchner died 26 October 2010 at age 60. The husband of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner died after suffering a heart attack in the southern city of El Calafate.
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