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ARGENTINA | 01-09-2022 15:19

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner dominates the political scene once again

By presenting the trial as a "persecution of Peronism," Fernández de Kirchner managed to "bring together all of Peronism.”

Hundreds of supporters gather every night under her balcony, the governing coalition closes ranks around her, and the opposition is divided on how to react. Loved or reviled, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is back in the political spotlight in Argentina.

On trial for alleged corruption during her 2007-2015 government and with the prosecution seeking 12 years in prison and her disqualification from politics, the current vice-president sparked numerous demonstrations last week across the country, even before a verdict has been handed down.

Chants, tears, fireworks, dances and drum beats, along with riots, thrown stones and clashes with the police have become the norm in the elegant corner where the former president lives, in the wealthy Recoleta neighbourhood of Buenos Aires. It has become a place of pilgrimage for a sector of the Peronist electorate and the fiery focal point of the increasingly fierce polarisation affecting Argentine politics.

For the militants, there is only one objective ("To defend her") and one slogan ("If they touch Cristina, what a mess they will make."). On many walls, there is graffiti calling for "Cristina 2023" in allusion to next year's elections.

Suddenly, the country’s most pressing concerns – an inflation rate reaching 71 percent over the last 12 months and a poverty rate of 37 percent – have been relegated to the background, as have the differences within the ruling Frente de Todos coalition, which in July forced the departure of two economy ministers.

 

‘La grieta is back’

The prosecutor's allegation "generated an accelerated reactivation of the political polarisation between Kirchnerism and anti-Kirchnerism,” explains political analyst Rosendo Fraga. “For almost two decades, this has been the axis of Argentine politics, which, seen in perspective, has been increasing rather than decreasing.”

Political scientist Raúl Aragón, of the University of La Matanza, said that by presenting the trial against her as a "persecution of Peronism," Fernández de Kirchner managed to "bring together all of Peronism.”

“It is a conditioned reaction of the Peronism that was banned for 18 years, first, and then during the dictatorship, when most of the dead were killed," he added.

At the same time, the vice-president has been able to sow discord among the main leaders of the centre-right opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition, with Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, one of the leading presidential candidates, and former security minister and PRO party chief Patricia Bullrich publicly airing their differences over how to deal with the demonstrations in Buenos Aires.

As the days have passed, the news moved on to these disputes: "The rift is back and it is hitting the opposition," reported the conservative daily La Nación. "The irremediable centrality of Cristina," headlined the Infobae news portal.

"Cristina found in the delirium of the sanctuary of Calle Juncal [her residence] a way to cover up the evidence of corruption and the crisis and the austerity, and the opposition [found] its incompetence," editorialised the Clarín newspaper on Wednesday.

 

Decline

But however intense Fernández de Kirchner’s relationship with her followers gets (some of whom describe her as "a mother"), her figure cannot overcome the strong rejection she generates among much of the electorate.

"She cannot win a national election, she has a negative image of almost 65 percent. She knows it and all of Peronism knows it. However, in a scenario of primary elections, Fernández de Kirchner is the one who has the best results, with 25 points. What does that mean? That you can't put together an electoral formula without Cristina agreeing," Aragón explained.

That’s what happened in 2019, when she decided to thrust her former Cabinet chief, Alberto Fernández, into the presidency, while reserving the post of vice-president for herself.

Obtaining a congressional seat that would give her immunity in the event of a conviction is an incentive ahead of next year's presidential and legislative elections. Those who seek to banish her from the political scene through what she denounces as "lawfare," or judicial manoeuvring, run the risk of consolidating her in power.

"Personally, Cristina Kirchner is a woman concerned about her own freedom and that of her children [who are implicated in another graft trial]. Politically, she is still the main player on the stage," Aragón concluded.

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