José Mayans has been tapped to lead the new united Peronist caucus in the Senate, marking the return of Kirchnerismo to power and a return to the limelight for the senator.
Mayans will lead the new Frente de Todos caucus, with Justicialist Party (PJ) senators and other lawmakers uniting under one 'oficialista' bloc. His appointment, sources told Perfil last weekend, comes as part of an agreement between vice president-elect Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and governors, largely negotiated by Governor Gildo Insfrán from Formosa.
Insfrán wanted to guarantee that the coalition be led by someone who could work with and represent provincial leaders, while the former president was also keen to place Mayans in the key position.
It was also discussed, sources say, during the November 18 meeting between president-elect Alberto Fernández and the former president in Recoleta, after Fernández de Kirchner's return from a trip to Cuba.
Like Insfrán, Mayans is from the Formosa Province. He began as a lawmaker in the provincial legislature as a member of the Justicialist Party (PJ). He won his first Senate seat in 2001.
The storied friendship between the two is well-known among lawmakers. Insfrán, once close to Carlos Menem, ultimately became an ally of Nestór Kirchner and, later, his wife when she became president.
RIVALRY WITH PICHETTO
Perhaps the most attention Mayans has received in recent years stems from his very public disputes with Miguel Ángel Pichetto, the veteran Peronist leader who signed up as vice-presidential candidate on President Mauricio Macri's ticket in the October elections. Pichetto has run the PJ caucus since 2002.
The rumoured rivalry began the two began when Mayans became party vice-president, but relations worsened considerably during last year's debates within the Budget and Treasury Commission, during which lawmakers were charged with introducing new austerity measures required by the terms of the US$57-billion credit-line the government negotiated from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Hostilities reached their peak when Pichetto, a life-long peronist, opted to join Macri's Cambiemos ticket as the incumbent's running-mate. Mayans, reacting to the news, said the government had been "infiltrated," and called Pichetto a "traitor."
Fernández de Kirchner has also complicated relations. Pichetto, who has been long estranged from the former preisdent, criticised Mayans for his "fluid" relationship with her, upon her return to the Senate in the 2017 midterms. Later, Mayans said he "knew" he was being used by Fernández de Kirchner to "start a fight" with Pichetto, but that he "kept playing the game."
Mayans also gained a brief moment of infamy within the party when he explicitly came out against the proposed law to legalise abortion last year, a position he delivered in front of Congress and attributed to his staunch Catholicism and his conservative upbringing in the northeastern province.
Given his unwavering position, Mayans' appointment gas surprised many. The president-elect has been equally clear about his commitment to decriminalising and legalising abortion.
Speaking over the weekend, Mayans said admitted he still opposed the move but said if it was backed by Fernández it "will have more weight."
It appears the president-elect values Mayans' experience as a consensus-builder more, a skill that will be important in maintaining unity among a wide range of Peronist perspectives within the newly crafted coalition.
Mayans said this week that "Cristina's link with the governors is very good – she is the manager of change in Argentina."
He added: "The most important thing is to set aside the differences to respond to the legislative needs of the next government."
The newly united Peronist bloc will have 41 senators, a crucial number given it allows them to reach quorum, thanks to exhaustive negotiations between lawmakers to find common ground and unite behind a shared banner. Mayans himself was part of these discussions.
Mayans' reputation precedes him for other reasons as well. Known for his sarcasm and high-energy discourse, some of his colleagues have joked they worry some lawmakers within his coalition won't be able to understand him because he speaks too fast.
It's believed that Carlos Caserio, who took over the PJ's leadership when Pichetto decided to run for vice-president in this year's elections, will have a place in the incoming Cabinet.
– TIMES/PERFIL, with reporting from Diamela Rodríguez.