Alberto Fernández has gone through a deep transformation in the eyes of most Argentines since he was handpicked by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to lead the Peronist ticket in the upcoming presidential elections. Not too long ago, a substantial portion of businessmen and journalists considered anything even remotely related to Mrs. de Kirchner as a signifier of Venezuelan socialism – an autocratic form of populism that consumes capital, isolates itself from the world and inexorably generates hyperinflation. Now, with President Mauricio Macri one foot out the door, given the disastrous state of Argentina’s economy, Fernández begins to look like a possible hero. But is he truly this moderate negotiator who understands the dangers of deficits and the importance of both paying the International Montary Fund and cozying up with the United States and Donald Trump? Are his economists and advisors skilled enough to orchestrate a Keynesian economic rebound while generating the conditions for Vaca Muerta to thrive, while keeping the social movements happy and at bay? And, probably most importantly of all, will he be able to keep CFK and the more fringe elements of this pan-Peronist coalition under control, allowing the supposed racionales to govern?
Of course, this analysis only makes sense assuming Macri and his Juntos por el Cambio coalition loses the general election. Polls, of course, have proven they are methodologically failed in recent times, yet things are easier when the work has already been done for you. With the results of the PASO primaries already in, several polling outfits have released figures, most of them indicating the ‘Fernández-Fernández’ ticket will handily take the election in the first round, probably securing more than 50 percent of the vote, and extending its lead over the ‘Macri-Pichetto’ ticket beyond the nearly 17 percentage points tallied in the first vote.
Macri, of course, refuses to believe in this scenario and continues to dream with the possibility of a run-off, where he could stand a chance against Alberto. Even if he made it to the second round, it’s unlikely he would beat Alberto and Cristina given the disapproval ratings he’s scoring. Macri has gone “full campaign mode,” launching a raid that will span 30 cities where he hosts “Yes we can” marches. The president is also announcing a set of measures per day in order to “put money in people’s pockets” and seduce the electorate, while Finance Minister Hernán Lacunza and Central Bank President Guido Sandleris struggle to keep a lid on the slippery dollar-peso exchange rate. It feels like “too little too late,” as Macri’s desperate measures face resistance from the opposition, and other state powers including the Supreme Court, while they fail to translate into new votes for the beleaguered candidate. Still, Macri understands that in order to build a strong opposition he needs to muster as many votes as possible in order to build legislative muscle next year. And retain Buenos Aires City, with Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta as a potential leader of the Cambiemos coalition, rebranded Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change), along with the Radicals.
We often pride ourselves on our capacity to predict the future, trying to use our past experience to project what will happen. In Dante’s Inferno, fortune-tellers and soothsayers had their heads twisted back so that they would walk backwards for the rest of eternity. What, exactly, Alberto plans to do is impossible to predict at this juncture, as he himself doesn’t know. He understands, for example, that naming a cabinet would by definition weaken his power as it could generate cracks in the Peronist coalition that has banded behind him to get rid of Macri and return their front to power.
Alberto Fernández is a political construction of a league of governors who, tired of losing election after election, have taken him as their unity candidate. His power is derived from the governors who, before Cristina took the decision to lower her pretensions and let someone else run for the presidency, stood behind Alternativa Federal (“Federal Alternative”), with Roberto Lavagna as their potential candidate. He also derives power from Cristina, who with a wave of her magic wand anointed him and transferred her winning votes onto him. “It’s not enough with Cristina, but without her we can’t make it,” (“Con Cristina no alcanza, pero sin ella no se puede”) is a phrase that has circulated among the Peronists, supposedly put together by Alberto, indicating the necessity to unite the party to displace Macri. The league of governors remembers Cristina’s disdain for the party all too well, as she distributed funds at her discretion to divide and rule. She knows that they know. Right now, they all need each other.
In order to understand the potential President (Alberto) Fernández, we need to look at those with strings to pull around him. The governors appear more transparent in their intentions: with fiscal surpluses, they control the Senate and will look to Alberto to fix the national economy, taking the heat for necessary but unpopular austerity measures. Cristina needs to stay out of prison, while guaranteeing a political future for son Máximo and the wellbeing (and freedom) of daughter Florencia, currently in Cuba for medical treatment. Supposedly, Florencia is in bad shape, which is why CFK has cancelled several rallies and flown to Havana many times in recent weeks. There’s also Cristina’s support base, the youth organisation La Cámpora, which apparently is already in an internal power struggle with Axel Kicillof, who seems headed to the governorship of Buenos Aires Province, where the Kirchnerites have their power base.
The unions already playing to Alberto’s tune, it seems. Strongman Hugo Moyano has called for unity, while Hugo Yasky’s CTA is expected to fuse with the CGT. In exchange, they are asking Alberto for key posts for their leaders and family members, along with key concessions for their members. Already, though, Alberto has faced the problem of the pilots and airport workers, who openly rebelled against him. The support of the unions guarantees governability. Yet, Alberto Presidente will also need the social movements on his side if he is to control the streets. He’s lauded Juan Grabois, a young and up-and-coming leader who counts on the support of Pope Francis. He’s criticised Grabois’ followers who recently protested in shopping-malls, while contradicting him with regards to an agricultural reform that would redistribute lands. These groups, though, represent large groups of people that receive pensions and other government disbursements, one of the key elements of the fiscal deficits. The Pope, who had a conflictive relationship with the Kirchners while they ruled Argentina, will definitely be playing his chips. Reducing the weight of social plans and disbursements is the key to balancing the budget.
What will Alberto do internationally? Already, Sergio Massa is in the United States where he’s building bridges. The IMF is controlled by the United States, and Massa is buddies with Rudy Giuliani, former New York Mayor and currently Trump’s personal lawyer. This column has already explained the potential relationship with the IMF and Wall Street, where it seems Argentina’s hands are tied. What about Venezuela? The US needs Argentina against President Nicolás Maduro if it is to play ball. What will Cristina say about that? Another open front is Brazil, where Alberto has visited former president Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva in prison and insulted sitting president Jair Bolsonaro. Argentina’s major trading partner is key to her future.
All of these are open questions as it is too early to make a proper prediction. Some expect Alberto to, having the “power of the pen,” swipe
Cristina out of the picture. Others choose to believe he’s a pragmatist
who, with the support of the Peronists, will execute a successful austerity plan. A small minority, though, remember his intolerance for criticism, his irate ways, his ideological malleability, and his disdain for
anyone who does not think like him. “Because he’s the hero Gotham
deserves, not the one it needs right now,” says Lieutenant James Gordon
referring to Batman toward the end of The Dark Knight. That hero, for
some, is already taking the shape of Alberto.