Politics

Cristina Kirchner’s Shock Bid as Vice-President Has Shaken up Argentina’s Political Landscape

23rd May 2019

By Luciana Bertoia

Cristina Kirchner’s Shock Bid as Vice-President Has Shaken up Argentina’s Political Landscape

Three days before facing her first trial for alleged corruption in her administration, Cristina Kirchner announced she will run for the Casa Rosada, but as vice-president of her former chief of staff Alberto Fernández. The former president caught her successor and main rival, Mauricio Macri, off guard, as well as other Peronist presidential pre-candidates who are still trying to respond to this ‘moderate Kirchnerite’ bid.

Cristina Kirchner‘s decision not to run and to cede her place to Fernández, a former ally who has criticized many of her government actions, even surprised the candidate himself, as well as many of her more ardent followers.

“She called me on Wednesday and offered me the position,” Fernández told reporters. “I said she should think about it. But she told me the country didn’t need someone as her, who divides people, but someone like me who can add to what we have.”

</p> <p><iframe width="1778" height="1000" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QmwCCksE-VE?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p>By stepping down from the presidential race, <strong>Fernández de Kirchner</strong> acknowledges she may find it difficult to win in a runoff due to her negative social image. But staying on the ticket is fundamental to secure the vote of her base, as she leads most opinion polls for the first round of ballots.</p> <p>Her decision challenges the government’s main campaign strategy: to polarize the electorate against her controversial figure. With this move Cristina also forces Macri to chase the “moderate vote” of those who do not support or antagonize him, according to political scientist <a href="https://www.perfil.com/noticias/opinion/opinion-alberto-fernandez-cristina-kirchner-andres-malamud-la-grieta-centripeta.phtml">Andrés Malamud</a>.</p> <h2><strong>Will Federal Peronism hold together?</strong></h2> <p>Both Macri and Fernández de Kirchner have the non-Kirchnerite Federal Peronism as the center of their strategies. The former president wants Sergio Massa, who broke with her government in 2013, to re-join her now. Macri, for his part, would favor Massa running as a third-party candidate inside Alternativa Federal to subtract votes from Fernández.</p> <p>The nomination of the centrist Fernández is also an attempt at courting Peronist governors and union leaders, who might have chosen to side with non-Kirchnerite Peronism instead. So far, eight of the 23 governors have come out to explicitly support Fernandez&#8217;s bid since Saturday&#8217;s announcement.</p> <p>Amid renewed pressure from Fernández, Córdoba Governor Juan Schiaretti<span style="color: #ff0000;"> </span>spoke out to stop the bleeding. Schiaretti has become a central figure within non-Kirchnerite Peronism after being re-elected on May 12, registering a 35-point lead over his closest competitor, Mario Negri, favored by the Casa Rosada. Córdoba is the second-largest electoral district behind the Buenos Aires province, and despite the Peronist victory last week, its population is still relatively favorable to Macri and hostile to Cristina. Schiaretti, who is also an old-time acquaintance of Macri, was all smiles when the governor visited the Casa Rosada on Tuesday.</p> <p>A day after meeting with Macri, Schiaretti confirmed that Alternativa Federal will participate in a separate primary election in August to pick its candidate. Alternativa Federal&#8217;s visible leaders are Schiaretti, Massa, Salta Governor Juan Manuel Urtubey, and Senator Miguel Pichetto, but the Córdoba governor seeks to hold a broad primary and <a href="https://www.clarin.com/politica/lavagna-peronismo-federal-convoca-progresismo-tinelli-scioli-sumarse_0_5MTni_g_e.html">has invited TV megastar and media mogul Marcelo Tinelli and former BA province governor Daniel Scioli to join them</a>.</p> <p>Scioli, for now, is still part of Fernández de Kirchner’s front but didn’t step down from the presidential race after Alberto Fernández’s candidacy was announced. Other pre-candidates in the Kirchnerite camp, such as Agustín Rossi and Felipe Solá, announced their withdrawal from the race after the announcement of the Fernández-Fernández ticket.</p> <h2><strong>A solo player?</strong></h2> <p>Schiaretti&#8217;s call for Tinelli and Scioli to join his coalition was possibly triggered by news that presidential hopeful Roberto Lavagna, a former economy minister of Eduardo Duhalde and Néstor Kirchner, might not be a part of Alternativa Federal in the primaries.</p> <p>Lavagna has been losing ground in the presidential race but insists on running solo instead of competing against other non-Kirchnerite Peronists in August, letting voters pick who comes on top to represent the coalition in October. On Tuesday, <a href="https://www.ambito.com/lavagna-se-vio-solas-schiaretti-y-le-insistio-ampliar-el-espacio-n5033033">he met Schiaretti</a> but they did not reach an agreement. Massa seems to be annoyed with Lavagna and prevented him from being in Wednesday&#8217;s meeting with Schiaretti, Pichetto, and Urtubey.</p> <p>Lavagna could end up in a smaller coalition, separate from the main three. Despite having flirted with Peronist and Radical leaders, only <a href="https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/lifschitz-stolbizer-evitaron-ruptura-definitiva-lavagna-alternativa-nid2250539">progressive allies</a> remain on his side, namely Margarita Stolbizer (GEN) and the governor of Santa Fe, Miguel Lifschitz (Socialist Party), who will put his governorship on the line on June 16.</p> <h2><strong>A candidate in the dock</strong></h2> <p>After going back and forth, the trial against Fernández de Kirchner and <a href="https://www.cij.gov.ar/nota-34507-Causa-Vialidad--informe-sobre-el-juicio-oral.html">twelve other defendants</a> accused of directing the allocation of public works in favor of Lázaro Báez, owner of Austral Construcciones and a close friend of the late Néstor Kirchner, started on Tuesday.</p> <p>Images of the former president sitting in court were <a href="https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/para-el-gobierno-el-juicio-afectara-el-desempeno-electoral-del-kirchnerismo-nid2250251">celebrated by the Macri administration</a> as officials believe it will jeopardize her chances of contributing to an Alberto Fernández victory in October.</p> <p>In the dock, the former president was joined by former Federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido and his Public Works Secretary José López, who jumped to fame when he was found carrying bags of money into a convent in 2016. During the campaign for the 2017 midterm elections, Fernández de Kirchner said she felt “hatred” when she saw López’ footage before being arrested.</p> <p>The trial was put on hold last week after the Court asked the Federal Oral Court (TOF) #2 to send the case file to examine the defendants&#8217; claims. Among the objections is that only five of the 51 works considered in the trial were appraised during the investigation of the case. The country&#8217;s highest court backpedaled after criticism from the government and media outlets, photocopied the file, and sent it back to the Comodoro Py courthouse before the trial&#8217;s scheduled start.</p> <p>However, the Supreme Court’s backpedaling should not be taken as definite. Justices have warned that they will examine the defendants’ filings and may eventually declare the trial null and void.</p> <p>The situation within the central courthouse is growing in tension. There is mistrust among the members of the court, and some believe that their decision to review how corruption cases have been investigated over past years could trigger a rebellion within the lower tribunals.</p> <p>So far, justices have not decided what to do with the complaints filed by the defendants in the public works trial. <a href="https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/la-corte-no-trato-los-planteos-de-la-expresidenta-nid2250285">Chief Justice Carlos Rosenkrantz</a> (normally aligned with the government) has already prepared a vote saying that the court does not review issues if there is no final judgment. There is also tension between the other four justices who had decided to examine the trial situation.</p> <p>The hearings will probably last until May or June of next year, with more than 160 witnesses expected. The court has time to decide before a verdict is issued. Justices will likely play their favorite game: postponing sensitive decisions until after the elections.

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Luciana Bertoia

Luciana Bertoia is a journalist specialized in judicial, political and human rights issues. She has published in Ámbito Financiero, Página/12, the Buenos Aires Herald and the International Justice Tribune.