After a week that began with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the dock, as
the first trial against her opened, the former president is now expected to
spend the coming weeks away from the spotlight, building alliances.
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for the former president.
In the last 13 days, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has unveiled her memoirs, announced her candidacy for vice-president and appeared in the dock for the first-ever trial into corruption allegations dating back to her time as president.
The Macri government is keen to measure the impact of Fernández de Kirchner’s last fortnight on the polls. The former president’s think-tank Instituto Patria is also on alert.
Few people close to her expect the polls to show a negative impact on her approval rating. They believe that while some in the electorate will be bothered by her return to the political arena – including by the very showy presentation of her new book Sinceramente (“Sincerely”), her decision to r u n a s A lb er to Fernández’s running mate is compensation.
Among Kirchnerites, there is a recognition that Fernández de Kirchner must woo undecided voters who might be experiencing distaste over her appearance in court, where she stands accused of alleged irregularities in the granting of public works contracts to Lázaro Báez, the Kirchner family’s alleged frontman.
But they insist the impact of the trial on October’s election remains to be seen.
“There are three months before the primaries in August and five until the general elections. How do they expect to maintain voters’ interest in this trial?” a source close to Senator Fernández de Kirchner asked, rhetorically. “The ratings show that citizens aren’t interested in what happens in Comodoro Py [the court house in Retiro neighbourhood]. They’re interested in surviving and putting food on their plates.”
The former president will remain a big topic of conversation for some weeks to come. However, until the lists of candidates close, she is likely to stay away from campaign visits, choosing instead to seek the broadest coalition possible for Alberto Fernández.
There were dramatic scenes on Tuesday when Fernández de Kirchner appeared in court Tuesday for the first in a series of corruption trials.
Security agents cordoned off the federal courtroom in Buenos Aires as Fernández de Kirchner arrived to face charges of heading “an illegal association” for embezzlement involving public works projects during her 2007-2015 presidency. She denies any wrongdoing.
The former president spent much of the session liaising with her lawyer and occasionally checking her phone as the court read out a series of dramatic, if not shocking, allegations of corruption.
She had “been part of an illegal organisation, in the capacity of its leader, alongside other officials in different areas of the State,” the court heard. These included her late husband, former president Néstor Kirchner and former Planning Minister Julio de Vido.
The name Lázaro Báez was among those most heard from the court secretary, who read the accusations against the accused. Báez was seat just three rows in front of the former head of state, for whom is accused of acting as a frontman in her illegal business activities.
Fernández de Kirchner led a “scheme that benefited the businesses of Lázaro Báez to the detriment of the State’s interests,” the court heard.
As the allegations were aired, the former president listened to the charges against her while she sat next to her attorney, but she did not comment.
Politicians, union leaders and human rights leaders supporting her sat nearby separated by a glass panel. Outside, dozens of sympathisers chanted her name and waved national flags in sky-blue and white.
Although several former Argentine presidents have faced trials, Fernández de Kirchner is the only one to do so while having a clear chance of returning to power.
Her running mate, who also served as Cabinet chief during her late husband’s presidency, is now one of the at least 150 witnesses in the case. He spoke prior to the case.
“Cristina will be able to prove that the charges are false,” Alberto Fernández told reporters. “It’s silliness that she’s involved in this case.
In separate cases, Fernández de Kirchner faces formal investigations into allegations of money-laundering and criminal association during her administration and that of Nestor Kirchner, her late husband and predecessor.
The case is expected to last a year. If found guilty she could face up to 15 years in prison, although her senatorial immunity protects her from arrest.