DAYS BEFORE she is due to go on trial for corruption, Argentina’s former president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has re-written the script for this year’s election, due in October. On May 18th Ms Fernández announced that she would not be running for president, contrary to what she had signaled only days before. Instead, she said, she was asking her chief adviser Alberto Fernández (no relation) to be the candidate for the top job, and she will be the vice-presidential nominee.
“Never have we had so many people sleeping on the street, never so many looking for food and work,” Ms Fernández said, attacking the government of the current president, Mauricio Macri. She explained that her new team was designed “not just to win an election, but to govern.” The news astonished some within her own Peronist movement—another former president, Eduardo Duhalde, said he thought it was “a joke” when he first heard.
Ms Fernández acknowledged that she had not always agreed with Mr Fernández. He was chief of staff to her late husband Néstor Kirchner during his Presidency from 2003 to 2007, and served her in the same position for a few months after she came to power in late 2007. Mr Fernández is known as a wily, backroom operative, but few have any sense of his own agenda. Speaking to journalists outside his home, he said he was ready to work on solving the “immeasurable crisis” the country faces. He insisted his running mate had been the victim of the “judicial system…..a shameful process, a judicial battering.”
Even allowing for the unusual way in which the vice-presidential pick chose the presidential nominee, Argentines find the choice of Mr Fernández surprising. He has never run for public office on his own, and his time in elected office is limited to serving in the Buenos Aires city legislature from 2000 to 2003 on a party list. Pollsters say they have never taken soundings on the man’s electability, or name-recognition, or attractiveness to the electorate. “In an election year as unpredictable as this, Alberto is a wild card that only Cristina could come up with,” says one political consultant.
Mr Macri, who is facing a tough re-election campaign as recession, 56% inflation and rising unemployment turn voters against him, confined himself to saying that “to return to figures of the past will be self-destruction.” But prominent supporters within his Cambiemos movement were more forthright. Elisa Carrió, once a presidential candidate herself, for her Civic Coalition, tweeted about the new candidate: “They are proposing Jack the Ripper. He guarantees them all impunity.”
Even within the new Fernández-Fernández camp, there are those who acknowledge that the former president had been weighed down by the prospect of her public trial this week. On May 21st she is due to appear with members of her government, some already behind bars, on corruption charges allegedly involving millions of dollars of state funds and unfinished public works in her home state of Santa Cruz.
Alfredo Cornejo, the leader of the Radical party, governor of Mendoza and a key figure within Mr Macri’s Cambiemos alliance, suggested that Ms Fernández had chosen someone she can control, and that she plans to run the country from the position of vice-president and protect herself and her family from prosecution. “It’s all about her warding off the trials she faces for the high level of corruption in her government. It’s all about impunity,” he said.
The Fernández-Fernández ticket will now seek to unify the Peronist movement, and bring in moderates who have been challenging Ms Fernández for the Peronist mantle in August primaries ahead of October’s elections. One well-known Peronist candidate, Sergio Massa, another former chief of staff to Ms Fernández, expressed a willingness to listen.
No one will be watching more closely than the International Monetary Fund, which agreed to lend Argentina a record $57bn last year. Mr Fernández insisted he had “no fear” of negotiating a way out: “the ideal would be that we find an exit that meets the commitments Argentina has with the world.”