Argentina’s election last Sunday could be the start of a game changer. The left-wing British newspaper The Guardian put it bluntly: “If there were any remaining doubts that progressive governments in Latin America are on the defensive, they were shattered with the poor result of the ruling Peronist camp in the Argentinian presidential elections.” A runoff vote on November 22 will pit Daniel Scioli, the center-left Peronist candidate, against the free market-oriented Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires.
Scioli held a double-digit lead in polls right up to the end, fueling expectations he would win outright without a runoff. Instead he edged Macri by only two percentage points, winning just 37% of the vote with Macri and another Peronist critic, Sergio Massa, polling 55% of the vote. In addition, for the first time in 28 years, the Peronists lost control of the governorship of Buenos Aires province, which is home to 35% of the country’s population.
The poor showing by Peronists is a sign that a majority of the country is tired of the arbitrary rule of outgoing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. In her eight years in office, she undermined the independence of every institution in the country. As the Economist put it:
“Fernández has hoarded power and suppressed dissent. She has bent the central bank to her will, muzzled the government’s statistics institute and bullied the media. She has tried, less successfully, to suborn the independence of the judiciary…. The country is in danger of running out of reserves; the budget deficit this year is likely to be 6% of GDP; inflation is estimated at 25%; and growth is absent.”
As Margaret Thatcher once noted: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” That is happening with leftist leaders all over Latin America. Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro is seeing his country fall apart with the decline of oil prices. Dilma Rousseff of Brazil has approval ratings in the single digits and faces possible impeachment over scandals. Ecuador has been consumed by street protests and its economy is faltering.
Expect the left to put everything they have into retaining power in Argentina. It’s not just about who governs the country’s 45 million people, it’s about whether the left all over Latin America will still be able to claim legitimacy for its views after a decade where they were handed the keys to power in country after country.