She’s Back: Argentines Contemplate Possible Role for ‘CFK’

Oct 21, 2019
11:50 AM

Former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, candidate for vice president with the the “Frente de Todos” party, speaks to supporters during a campaign rally in Santa Rosa, Argentina, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Argentina will hold its presidential election on Oct. 27. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

By DÉBORA REY, Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — She’s back.

At least, that was the opinion of giddy supporters who chanted “We will return!” as Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s former president, campaigned ahead of national elections on Oct. 27.

Fernández de Kirchner, who embodies Argentina’s enduring cycle of hope and despair, appears close to a return to power, this time as a candidate for vice president. So Argentines are wondering how exactly the government would run with her back in it.

Naturally, views diverge over the impact of Fernández de Kirchner’s outsized, polarizing persona on the leadership of a nation long starved of economic stability. It’s hard to find common ground among Argentines weary of financial crashes and political convulsion.

Will Fernández de Kirchner, if her ticket wins, take a back seat to her new boss, who used to work for her? Or would she be a Machiavellian figure, manipulating Argentina’s possible next president, Alberto Fernández, from behind the scenes?

Some analysts doubt 66-year-old Fernández de Kirchner, a senator who succeeded husband Néstor Kirchner as president in 2007 and served two four-year terms, would try to sideline a running-mate-turned-president.

“I don’t see Cristina wanting to turn Alberto into a puppet, speaking over him, making her own administrative agenda,” said Patricio Giusto, co-founder of Diagnóstico Político, an Argentine consultancy.

“She wants to be entrenched in the Senate, which is an important pole of power, but above all she is worried about her family situation,” Giusto said.

The vice president is based not at government headquarters but in the Senate, over which he or she presides. If Fernández de Kirchner becomes vice president, she would be watched for any maneuvers aimed at elevating the deputy’s traditionally junior role.

But she faces investigations into alleged fraud, money laundering and other crimes, although she enjoys immunity from arrest as a member of Congress, a status that would also apply as vice president.

Fernández de Kirchner’s biggest concern as vice president would be to ensure that the Justice Ministry treats her favorably, said Mariel Fornoni, head of Management & Fit Consultora, an Argentine research center.

The former president has held few campaign events. She has often visited Cuba to see daughter Florencia, who has received medical treatment there this year. Her son Máximo is a deputy in Congress and also faces legal problems.

“Frente de Todos” party presidential candidate Alberto Fernández, left, and running mate Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s former president, wave at a campaign rally in Santa Rosa, Argentina, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Still, Fernández de Kirchner retains immense popularity among Argentines who view her as a champion of the poor. Supporters wear T-shirts with her image, refer to her affectionately by her initials “CFK” and barely mention a running mate who was once Cabinet chief when she was president.

“She’s the one who has the votes, she makes it all happen,” said Gastón Pérez, who waited more than four hours at a Buenos Aires university complex to see Fernández de Kirchner.

There, she electrified the awed crowd, reflecting an emotional connection that eludes most other Argentine politicians.

“If I’m a candidate for vice president, it’s not because I want to be vice president. That’s clear. I thought of it as a way to help shape a new majority in Argentina,” Fernández de Kirchner said.

The opaque remarks delighted the throng, which see Fernández de Kirchner as the antithesis to conservative President Mauricio Macri. His critics link Argentina’s economic misery to austerity measures that are part of a $55 billion financing deal with the International Monetary Fund.

Macri lost a primary election in August, ceding frontrunner status to his opponent, Alberto Fernández. That spooked Argentines who recall how the big spending and state intervention of Fernández de Kirchner’s center-left presidency got Argentina’s economy into trouble.

Macri’s camp seeks to capitalize on that unease, portraying Fernández de Kirchner as a puppet master waiting in the wings.

“She’ll be the one who governs” if Alberto Fernández wins, said Miguel Pichetto, Macri’s candidate for vice president. “She’s the one who would have power, have no doubt.”

Former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, candidate for vice president with the the “Frente de Todos” party, speaks to supporters during a campaign rally in Santa Rosa, Argentina, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Nicolás Trotta, a top aide on the opposition ticket, dismisses such theories. He told The Associated Press in an interview that Alberto Fernández, as president, would gladly consult a deputy (the two are not related) who has “an incredible connection” with many Argentines.

Argentina’s next government faces massive debt, soaring inflation, deepening poverty and official unemployment of more than 10 percent.

Fornoni, the research center head, speculated that a government led by Alberto Fernández might deploy his deputy to soothe impatient Argentines.

“The social situation is very complicated and I don’t know how much time people will give Alberto to follow through on his promises. Cristina could be the figure who calms things down,” Fornoni said.

But, she said, “the truth is that little is known about how the alliance would work.”


Associated Press journalists Almudena Calatrava and Natacha Pisarenko contributed.