Politics

Fernández presidency faces a delicate balancing act

31st October 2019

By Natalio Cosoy

Fernández presidency faces a delicate balancing act

On December 10th he will become Argentina’s President for the next four years, but Alberto Fernández will not have an easy ride: he inherits a deep economic crisis and his administration will have to deal with potential power struggles within its Frente de Todos coalition and stakeholders with different needs and priorities all around.

</p> <h2><strong>Governors as the backbone</strong></h2> <p>On Tuesday, when Alberto Fernández attended the ceremony in which Tucuman province&#8217;s governor Juan Manzur took office after being reelected, he was surrounded by traditional peronists, governors and mayors, as well as representatives of the largest unions in the country.</p> <p>Fernández repeated, as he had said throughout the campaign, that Argentina, being a federal nation, will be governed by the 24 provincial governors and the President.</p> <p>It is from them he is trusting to get a key backing in future battles. And so, he has to keep them on his side.</p> <p>&#8220;They will have a direct line to the new President,&#8221; political scientist María Esperanza Casullo told The Essential, &#8220;a type of relationship they did not have with Macri and, in many cases, neither with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner during her last years in government.&#8221;</p> <h2><strong>A mandate of unity</strong></h2> <p>Fernández is also <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/10/10/alberto-fernandez-is-setting-the-ground-for-a-business-labor-pact">strengthening the links</a> with the <em>Unión Industrial Argentina</em> (UIA, the main industry chamber), as well as the main workers&#8217; union, the <em>Confederación General del Trabajo</em> (CGT).</p> <p>He will have to establish a new relationship with the energy sector, which was benefited during Macri&#8217;s Administration when the operators were allowed to raise their prices, and who worry new restrictions could come with the new government. There will be a similar worry from the farmers, who are instinctively fearful of anything that reminds them of Cristina Fernández&#8217;s government, when they were heavily taxed and regulated.</p> <p>Political scientist Pablo Touzón told <em>The Essential</em> that would be a huge challenge, since the rural sector is &#8220;traditionally the most (economically) liberal in Argentina, and the one that needs less from the state.&#8221;</p> <p>And it is not just them that will be crucial stakeholders: social movements and Catholic priests –close to Pope Francis– that work directly with the poorest in the shantytowns and derelict urban and rural areas will have to be counted in.</p> <p>And sectors that were particularly relevant during vice-President elect Cristina Fernández de Kirchner&#8217;s government and had fallen from grace during Macri&#8217;s: academics, scientists, state workers and human rights movements. As a sign of the change in times for the latter, Estela de Carlotto, head of the <em>Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo</em> organization created during the 1976-83 dictatorship, was on the celebratory stage on Sunday.</p> <h2><strong>Upcoming restrictions</strong></h2> <p>But there is a risk in trying to satisfy everyone, especially when building a comprehensive consensus under the umbrella of a national unity plan, one that has been extensively announced –without much detail– by the President elect.&#8221;They all expect to benefit from expansive and productive policies for which there is little room in Argentina today,&#8221; Eduardo Levy Yeyati, dean of Universidad Torcuato Di Tella&#8217;s School of Government, told <em>The Essential</em>. &#8220;It is hard to predict who will prevail when restrictions become apparent.</p> <p>And there lays the first tension Alberto Fernández will have to deal with, one of many balancing acts he will face, where he will have to keep everyone reasonably happy or at least not angry enough to start burning bridges; in essence, build consensus.</p> <h2><strong>How much Alberto and how much Cristina?</strong></h2> <p>And there will also be tensions within.</p> <p>It has been widely said: on the stage on Sunday where Alberto Fernández celebrated his victory, there were more <em>Cristinistas</em> than other Peronists. It was definitely not a similar lot to the one seen in Tucumán on Tuesday.</p> <p>Some analysts speculated that Cristina might have been blocking more traditional Peronists from getting on stage on Sunday. That was the show, not substance, in any case. It is said, though, that Cristina is more ideological and Alberto more pragmatic.</p> <p>It might be, as suggested by Levy Yeyati, that Cristina and his people give Alberto leeway but reserve a certain veto power if things do not go in the right direction.</p> <p>In any case, Argentina&#8217;s system of Government is heavily centralized in the figure of the President. &#8220;Alberto Fernández already said that Cristina Kirchner will be a loud voice and advisor, but that does not mean there will be two pens,&#8221; said Shila Vilker, director of consultancy Trespuntozero.</p> <p>The reference to the pen is key: it is the President who wields it, both to sign executive orders and to release funds to the provinces, ministries, etc.</p> <h2><strong>Transition team</strong></h2> <p>This week, too, Alberto Fernández released the names of those who would be in charge of negotiating the transition with Macri&#8217;s officials.</p> <p>Politically and ideologically, they come from different strands. Political scientist Santiago Cafiero has been a close adviser of Fernández during the campaign, and is seen as one of his potential chiefs of staff.</p> <p>Lawyers Vilma Ibarra and Gustavo Béliz have also been close to Fernández in the past, but none of them had been part of the campaign so far. Ibarra is a Buenos Aires city progressive who had strong differences with Fernández de Kirchner, while Béliz comes from a more conservative background, although he also served as Minister of Justice during the first year of Néstor Kirchner’s administration, when the president elect was chief of staff.</p> <p>The fourth member of the team, and the one with closer ties to Fernández de Kirchner, is House Representative Eduardo &#8220;Wado&#8221; de Pedro. As a member of <em>La Cámpora</em> (the more <em>Cristinista</em> group within the <em>Frente de Todos</em> coalition), he has acted as a middle man between Fernández de Kirchner and the rest of Peronism.</p> <h2><strong>An unpredictable Congress</strong></h2> <p>As vice-President, Fernández de Kirchner will be speaker of the Senate, one in which <em>Frente de Todos</em> will have a slim majority.</p> <p>This will not be the case in the lower house, where the government will have to negotiate any laws it would want to pass.</p> <p>As Alejandro Catterberg, director of consultancy Poliarquia, <a href="https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/oportunidad-para-el-dialogo-y-la-moderacion-nid2301632">wrote</a> in <em>La Nación</em> newspaper: &#8220;Alberto Fernández will face the challenge of keeping the coalition together while establishing alliances with other Peronist sectors to reach simple majorities.”</p> <p>And again, as he points out, that gives special weight to the governors and to the legislators that the provincial leaders control.</p> <p>The situation could get difficult if the coalition starts to break and Fernández ends up losing the loyalty of some of its members.</p> <p>&#8220;My fear,&#8221; warns Casullo, &#8220;is that the conflict towards the new government grows large and this translates into congressional obstruction.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;That there is no honeymoon period.&#8221;</p> <h2><strong>Regional equilibrium</strong></h2> <p>As if all the fine lines mentioned were not enough, there is also the matter of foreign policy, where Fernández is already performing a difficult balancing act.</p> <p>The president-elect already started exercising a two-pronged style of diplomacy via Twitter.</p> <p>When replying to Nicolás Maduro’s congratulatory message, he slipped in a comment about the importance of democracy, when the quality of Venezuela&#8217;s one is very much questioned. And when thanking Sebastián Piñera he mentioned the importance of fighting inequality, the main trigger of Chile&#8217;s protests. He also told Boris Johnson that Argentina&#8217;s claim of sovereignty over the Malvinas/ Falklands will not stop, but that he expects to work to strengthen the relationship between the UK and Argentina.</p> <p>Things were nicer with Mexico&#8217;s Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who he sees as an ally to consolidate in the region and with whom he said he will work hand in hand &#8220;to strengthen Latin America&#8217;s relationship with the world.&#8221;</p> <p>Such is the importance Fernández gives to López Obrador, with whom he shares a non-interventionist take on Venezuela&#8217;s troubles, that he will visit Mexico in the next few days, his first trip abroad as President elect.</p> <p>In stark contrast, Brazil&#8217;s Jair Bolsonaro said that Argentina made a mistake by choosing Alberto Fernández, who is a <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/07/11/lula-fernandez-de-kirchner-brazil-argentina-lava-jato-cuadernos-notebooks">strong supporter of ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva</a>, currently in jail on corruption charges.</p> <p>It is a bad start for a relationship that should be key, as the countries are the two bigger members of the Mercosur trade bloc and Brazil is Argentina&#8217;s main economic partner.</p> <h2><strong>Trump and the IMF</strong></h2> <p>But it is not just about Latin America.</p> <p>The world Fernández will face is one in which Argentina is heavily dependent, especially with regards to debt, both with multilateral credit organizations and with private investors.</p> <p>International Monetary Fund’s director Kristalina Georgieva welcomed the election of Fernández and tweeted: <strong>&#8220;</strong>We look forward to engaging with his administration to tackle #Argentina’s economic challenges and promote inclusive and sustainable growth that benefits all Argentines.&#8221;</p> <p>How much they will be willing to give in the form of a restructuring of Argentina&#8217;s debt is something that is far from clear at this point.</p> <p>Macri had a strong ally in Donald Trump&#8217;s administration when having to deal with the IMF. And even though the State Department was quick to say that it looks forward to continuing bilateral cooperation, it is hard to see the US giving a Fernández Administration the level of backing it gave to the departing one.</p> <h2><strong>A wise negotiator</strong></h2> <p>Even though he has not had a great deal of experience as an elected official, Alberto Fernández has been at the heart of government and politics for the past three decades, at the least.</p> <p>And he has always been known as a wise negotiator, someone able to sit with a big media mogul for lunch and have a conversation a couple of hours later with the leader of a big union or a political rival, always finding a way to keep the dialogue open all the time.</p> <p>With the biggest exception being, maybe, his fall from grace with Cristina Fernández, when he quit as her Chief of Staff in 2008. And yet he managed to get close to her again. So close, she chose him for the role he will now be facing, the biggest of his political life.</p> <p>

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Natalio Cosoy

Natalio Cosoy is the Argentine correspondent for France 24 in Spanish and has worked for the BBC, the Deutsche Welle and the Washington Post.