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Logic would suggest that her luck would have to run out at some point, but Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has surprised us time and time again, retaining her central position in Argentina’s political ecosystem. She’s the brightest star in a galaxy that is quickly fading, as society becomes increasingly annoyed by the political goings-on, which makes her endurance all the more commendable from an objective point of view. Argentina, of course, isn’t a quasi-democracy where autocrats can barricade themselves in the presidential palace, relying on intelligence agencies and security forces to keep adversaries at bay. The general rules of play agreed upon in 1983, with the return of democracy, have pretty much been respected, and both Peronists and anti-Peronists have essentially stayed within their bounds. It is in that context that Fernández de Kirchner is looking to once again pick out a surprise strategy from her political playbook, only that this time it is probably at her moment of greatest weakness. Her internal struggle is difficult to imagine as she battles to keep the pan-Peronist Frente de Todos front from a humiliating third place in this year’s presidential election, failing to make the run-off and consolidating a cycle of political decline originating probably around her second presidency. With Juntos por el Cambio chastising themselves as Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Patricia Bullrich duke it out in public, it appears that Javier Milei is the only one left with nothing to lose.
A naïve reader of Cristina’s previous letter, one of her preferred methods to communicate her musings to followers and fans, could believe that she is writing in exile, forced to leave or pay with her life like many in Argentina’s violent past. Attempting to draw a parallel between the “proscription” of Peronism in the mid-20th century during a time when political violence meant guerrilla warfare in the streets of the nation’s cities, state-sponsored terrorism against the population and a vast array of human rights violations, the vice-president confirms she’s renounced any potential candidacy this year, given it will be blocked by the bloodthirsty “Judicial Party.” It’s not just judicial persecution, but an all-out cultural war against Peronism and Kirchnerism also waged by the ferocious mainstream media, culminating in an attempted assassination she has somehow linked to her political opponents. The other narrative thread carrying Fernández de Kirchner’s political pitch is the immoral nature of the International Monetary Fund’s bail-out of the Mauricio Macri administration, which is part of an international plot to put Argentina on its knees so that foreign financial interests can plunder our riches.
She’s quite convincing. In some sort of way she is in exile, forced to live a life of limited exposure to everyday pleasures, like eating at a restaurant or going to the cinema, given the level of rejection she generates in a large portion of society. In those regards both husband Néstor and arch-nemesis Mauricio have been more successful than CFK – both were able to walk the streets relatively freely, something Macri still does. As mentioned previously in this column, Cristina’s political renunciation was nothing more than the acknowledgement that winning a presidential election was statistically impossible and would cause more harm than good for her political cause. The same could be said of Macri, but CFK has folded it into the Kirchnerite political narrative requiring an epic battle against an all-powerful army which has rigged the odds against her.
This latest renunciation, which is at least the third time she’s confirmed it, comes as “the Movement” continues to beg her to run, as we saw in last week’s rally. And here is where one must tactically observe what the vice-president is doing, because a run for the Senate in the Province of Buenos Aires would almost guarantee her a seat while giving a boost to Governor Axel Kicillof, the “prodigal child,” in his contested bid for re-election. There appears to be no obvious reasons as to why the Judiciary would block her candidacy on similar grounds as they’ve done in San Juan and Tucumán, while the many corruption cases against her — at least one with an initial conviction — are far from final sentences which would truly rule her out. Retaining the governorship of Buenos Aires Province while trying to come in second in the national election must be what is guiding CFK’s decision-making process.
According to esteemed sociologist and political analyst Eduardo Fidanza there is a substantial probability that the Frente de Todos won’t make it to the run-off this year, a turn of events which would be unprecedented. Speaking at a livestream for Perfil’s digital subscribers last week, the founder of political consultancy firm Poliarquía noted that the rise of ultraliberal economist Milei could relegate the Peronists if the lead in polls materializes into votes, something impossible to concretely predict at this juncture given the nascent nature of the phenomenon. The firebrand economist counts on the benefit of speaking to an irritated and disillusioned society tired of the “caste,” as Javier Milei has dubbed the political class. It doesn’t really matter at this point that his political platform includes the privatization of health and education, unfettered organ-buying and the legal carrying of firearms, or even that his running-mate is a dictatorship denialist. Or that, as many suggest, he’s being financed by all sorts of different actors, from Peronist leaders to leading businessmen, all looking to capitalize on the effects of his shining star.
Coming to Milei’s aid unwittingly is Juntos por el Cambio. The opposition coalition is fragmented as hawks (Bullrich) and doves (Rodríguez Larreta) engage in a damaging primary that, according to Fidanza, has shaved several percentage points off their voting intentions, which are expected to go mainly to Milei. While CFK is doing everything in her power to try and remain competitive, Juntos’ supporters should be worried that they appear to be doing everything to sabotage their own chances, even if the projections suggest they will take the electoral bout. In their favor is the coalition structure which allows JxC to pick up votes outside the Bullrich-Larreta tandem, in part due to the affiliation of the Unión Civic Radical and its offshoots. At the same time, their strategic allegiance with José Luis Espert, a former ally of Milei, could help them retain some hardliner votes, even if it also affects Bullrich.
Argentina’s political class is lost in a difficult maze. At one end is Milei, who seems to have jumped out of the maze to play under his own rules, which are the rules of right-wing populism that are so effective. Frente de Todos is trying to figure out how to minimize the damage of an almost guaranteed defeat, while Juntos por el Cambio is acting as if they’d already won the election. All of this promises to further dampen the social mood.
This piece was originally published in the Buenos Aires Times, Argentina’s only English-language newspaper.