Yesterday, Cristina Fernandez was re-elected as President of Argentina with 54% of the votes (as of this writing, media reports she won by 54%, with final results expected by the end of the week, probably with a slight difference in her favor). Her political alliance, known as “Front for Victory” (a faction of the Justicialist Party) now controls both the Congress and the Senate. She is the third most voted President in Argentinian history (after Hipolito Yrigoyen in the 30’s and Juan Domingo Peron in the early ‘70’s). She is also the only Argentinian President to win with the biggest margin of votes to the closest opponent. At the time of this publication, her next contender, Hermes Binner is at a distant second with 16.9% and, in third place, Ricardo Alfonsin, with a paltry 11%. But this is not any victory, if anything, this is the victory of a disobedient woman. A woman who systematically refused to be pigeonholed, controlled and manipulated. A woman whose policies might not be to everyone’s taste, but whose political skills cannot be derided. A woman who, for the first time in Argentina’s history, put gender at the center of a political project.
In 2001, Argentina went bankrupt. The country had lost its political compass and people demanded a renewal, not only of policies, but of principles and moral grounds. It was in this harsh climate that Nestor Kirchner won the Presidency in 2003, with only 22% of votes and the lowest voter turnover rate ever recorded. Voting in Argentina is mandatory by law, citizens’ withdrawal of participation was read, at the time, as an act of resistance, a proof of discontent. When his presidency ended four years later, he had a 70% approval rating. People called him “heroic”. When Cristina Fernandez, Ernesto Kirchner’s wife, ran as his successor, she won her first Presidency with 45% of votes. Media was shocked, nobody had anticipated such victory. Now, yet another four years later, she wins with 54% of votes. Things are more difficult now for her detractors as words are not enough to define this level of citizen support. Many analysts are having troubles coming to terms with the fact that, for the third time in a row, just like in Brazil, voters have supported not necessarily a Party, but a platform based on the ideas of development with strong focus on social inclusion. A model that centers the needs of those sectors that had been historically relegated and forgotten. However, this model is also innovative in that it is not purely based on populist ideas of wealth distribution, but on the principle of fairness and equal opportunities.
When her husband, leader of the Party suddenly died of heart failure, a mere 11 months ago, certain media called her grief “fake” and “performative”. Her mental health, for years the subject of cruel speculation was, once again, brought up. She was called “bipolar”, “hysterical”, “mentally unstable”. Her capabilities for Office questioned not on the basis of political disagreement but on the basis of her gender. Two months ago, during a trade mission to Paris, where she met President Sarkozy, both media and opposition politicians had a field day accusing her of being a “shallow airhead” who bought dozens of pairs of Christian Louboutin shoes, suggesting she was corrupt and using public funds for these personal shopping sprees. She never responded publicly to any of these accusations, instead instructing her political aides to show proof of purchases and receipts in her name, from her personal funds.
It is her relentless pursuit of causes that alienate some of the wealthiest and most conservative sectors of society that have earned her a place as a favorite for public scoffing. Since Ernesto Kirchner took office in 2003, the country’s GDP has grown at a steady rate of 7% per year. But she had the audacity to increase the tax on agricultural exports, confronting one of the most powerful lobby groups in the country. With the budget surplus (another historical record), she created cash transfer programs and social initiatives that benefited the poor. This cash transfer program, that benefits almost four million children and teens, is conditional on school attendance and keeping up-to-date on vaccines and health checkups. Her government also created the “One laptop per child” policy that has, so far, distributed almost two million computers to the poorest children in the country.
However, it is obviously not just the poor supporting her policies. This is also a vote of confidence from those that agree and favor the prosecution and jail sentences for all parties complicit in the brutal dictatorship that decimated an entire generation, a process started by Nestor Kirchner in his presidency and passionately continued by Cristina Fernandez. Her commitment to Human Rights, in spite of accusations of corruption and nepotism, resonate with a great number of people. It is now unquestionable that people have also voted for her policy of union empowerment and for her strong commitment to gender equality and LGBTQ rights. Now, with complete control of both Congress and Senate, there are open questions as to how far she will be able to take this commitment and whether she is ready to, once again, battle against the opposition of the Catholic Church to abortion rights and gender identity.
Last night in Plaza de Mayo, during the speech announcing her victory, she spoke in front of thousands of people. The majority of them under thirty years old, the very basis of her political movement. She reserved a good part of her gratitude to South America, naming it “this region, our home”, also highlighting another pivot of her political axis: the uncompromising alignment with not only a geographical region, but a way of looking at the world, of negotiating power in the margins of the hegemony from the Global North. These alliances which have also made her enemies within certain corporate apologists that see their uncontrolled access to wealth threatened and who would like to paint other regional leaders as populist demagogues without substance or ideals.
Yet, 54% of the population voted for her, renewing this vision, giving her a mandate to go further, to deepen these ideals which, though imperfect and certainly not without space for certain valid and necessary criticisms, speak of equality and utopia. In an era of profound global discontent and disappointment with traditional politics, perhaps the best lesson Cristina Fernandez can offer is one of boldness and courage. When people in the West are coming to the realization of the failures of neoliberal models, her pursuit of social transformation is certainly not without merits and perhaps worth imitating.