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31/10/2010 | Former President's Death Leaves Political Vacuum in Argentina

Global Insight Staff

Argentina's former president Néstor Kirchner (2003–07), husband of incumbent president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and an expected candidate in next year's presidential elections, died yesterday, news of which has shaken the country's political establishment.

 

IHS Global Insight Perspective

Significance: Néstor Kirchner, a charismatic and controversial figure, has left a vacuum in Argentina's political scene that several players will be keen to fill in ahead of next year's presidential elections.

Implications: Markets have reacted immediately to the news, foreseeing a more market-friendly future for Argentina.

Outlook: Despite this, the political future of the country remains uncertain while Kirchner's absence will come as a heavy blow for his wife, President Christina Fernández de Kirchner.

Argentina's former president Néstor Kirchner (2003–07) died yesterday in a hospital near his summer residence in El Calafate in southern Argentina. Kirchner, aged 60, was a key figure in the government of incumbent president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, his wife. He had been operated on several times this year and had undergone emergency angioplasty in September. The surgery, aimed at avoiding an obstruction of the coronary artery, was the second this year—he was hospitalised for a similar condition in February. He was taken to the José Formenti hospital yesterday after suffering a heart attack, where he later died. Kirchner was the secretary-general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and was also expected to run for Argentina's next presidential elections in October 2011.

The End of An Era

Kirchner's death comes as a heavy blow for his wife, President Fernández, and also for the future of the ruling Front for Victory party (FV), a faction within the Justicialist Party, commonly known as the Peronist Party. Kirchner had hoped to use his UNASUR role to promote his widely expected bid for the 2011 presidential election, capitalising on his increased international profile and a somewhat greater distance from the various domestic political scandals affecting his wife. However, his unexpected death has completely shifted the political scenario in Argentina ahead of next year's elections, leaving the FV party without its most charismatic figure. Fernández is nevertheless able to run for one additional consecutive term under a 1994 Constitutional amendment, and she would be likely to make the most of this opportunity. The Justicialist Party has been bitterly divided between the FV and those who were opposed to the Kirchner presidential couple, and with Kirchner's death the battle for succession will be fierce.

The Race is Open

Kirchner's death has left a vacuum in Argentine politics, leaving many political actors with unexpected—and extremely attractive—opportunities. As Kirchner's death reached the front covers of all Argentine newspapers and the international media, eyes turned to Daniel Scioli, governor of Argentina's Buenos Aires province. Scioli, Argentina's vice-president from 2003 to 2007 under Kirchner and vice-president of the ruling Justicialist Party, has attracted the support of both the Argentine general public and local entrepreneurs, at odds with President Fernández. It is expected that Scioli will now take over the presidency of the Justicialist Party, gaining ground ahead of next year's polls. Other important players include Julio Cobos, incumbent vice-president currently at loggerheads with Fernández, and in the opposition Mauricio Macri, the centre-right mayor of the country's capital, Buenos Aires. Ricardo Alfonsín, son of former president Raúl Alfonsín (1983–89) and a national deputy from Buenos Aires province, is another important figure, and recently won the primaries of his leftist Radical Civil Union (UCR) party, paving the way for his presidential candidature.

Outlook and Implications

Although public sympathy for Fernández might last a few weeks (and even months) it is unlikely that Kirchner's death will boost her presidential ambitions next year. With the death of her charismatic husband, Cristina has lost not only a spouse but also her best political mentor. Kirchner was the strong man in the party and the person behind all the deal-making—without him it is unlikely that Fernández will be able to pull the party together ahead of the elections. Kirchner's absence could, however, have a positive effect on the president, who normally displays a very confrontational style. Overall, at this point it is safe to say that the political future of Argentina is uncertain. Kirchner's death creates a void in the Argentine political scene at a crucial time ahead of next year's polls. His passing away will be a political opportunity for some and a misfortune for others, while it will also have repercussions for the future of UNASUR. Remembered as the president that pulled the country together after Argentina's 2001 economic crisis, Néstor Kirchner's death closes a chapter in the contemporary political history of Argentina.

Global Insight (Reino Unido)

 


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