For they look but they do not see,” reads a verse in Matthew 13:13, meaning many times things are hidden in plain sight, making them that much harder to grasp and, in some cases, that much more dangerous.
Close to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the mood appears to have changed. They’ve left behind flirtations with modern political advisers who recommend the use of social media to target undecided voters by toning down their rhetoric, and have instead closed in on a core group of Peronists who consider themselves masters in the old art of politics. Together, they came up with the brilliant plan of having Cristina relinquish her claims to the presidency, choosing former Cabinet chief Alberto Fernández to lead a ticket that has come to be known as ‘Fernández-Fernández’ in the media. No Kirchners, that is.
In a country so addicted to news as Argentina, it was incredible that the leader of the political opposition, in the midst of a deep economic recession coupled with stubbornly high inflation, and as the electoral season is thrust upon us, managed to remain on the sidelines for a full week. CFK, usually extremely active on social media, went silent on May 30, just after her first and only real political rally where she lent Alberto the lead role. No radio appea ra nces, no interviews, no t weets. A week before she had absorbed the totality of the country’s attention making her way to the Comodoro Py federal cour - thouse to listen to accusations against her in the first of many corruption cases being elevated to oral trial. This happened in the aftermath of revealing Alb e r t o w o u l d lead the ticket.
W h i l e t h i s should come as no surprise to anyone fo - llowing the former two-term ex-president’s electoral strategy, the effectiveness of her silence is impressive. T e l e v i s i o n crews are no longer staking o u t h e r apartment in the swanky Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Recoleta, and have instead taken to chasing Alberto around town. Commentators on TV and print spend their time speculating about Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa and his probable alliance with Cristina’s Civic Unity party. Others argue President Mauricio Macri continues to look weak and should forsake the pole position in the ticket, with Buenos Aires Province Governor María Eugenia Vidal being floated as the best candidate to avoid the return of populism.
No-one should doubt Cristina’s appetite for power. Singlehandedly picking Alberto Fernández to lead the only opposition ticket with chances of making it to the run-off, and even snatching victory in the first-round vote, is an incredible show of power, as Jaime Durán Barba argued in Perfil. Furthermore, it allows Fernández de Kirchner to shun the spotlight, which is not something she seems to enjoy, but does work in her favour at this stage, given extremely high levels of rejection among undecided voters. It also gave Peronist governors a perfect excuse to lend their support to what could be a winning ticket without losing face with their constituents, having spent the last few years blaming Macri and Cristina for the nation’s woes. This, in turn, led to the deflating of the Federal Alternative coalition, with Córdoba Governor Juan Schiaretti — who is still on vacations — and Salta’s Juan Manuel Urtubey standing alone in the ever-shrinking “third route.” Then there’s Massa, who is being actively courted by his former campaign manager, the one and only Alberto Fernández, and Mrs. Fernández de Kirchner’s power broker, son Máximo. Massa is expected to cave soon, even if the man from Tigre has repeatedly claimed his intention to run for president and asked for open primaries.
We would be naïve to believe Cristina will actually relinquish power if indeed they make it to the Casa Rosada. It is also innocent to expect a moderate Cristina and/or an Alberto open to dialogue with diverse sectors. Historically chameleonic, Peronists know they need a unified front to recover the Presidency, which is why a coalition is being forged among Cristinistas, Massa, and the federal Justicialist Party (PJ), currently chaired by José Luis Gioja, which counts with the support of nearly every opposition governor.
The real question is whether the strategy is working. Initial polling figures suggest Macri has stopped the haemorrhaging, with different reports indicating the president’s numbers are finally rising, even to the point where he could overtake Cristina in a run-off scenario. This is mainly attributed to the relative peace in currency markets over the past month, which should help lower inflation and begin to generate positive macroeconomic figures. Could it be related to Alberto’s candidacy? It’s unlikely, yet still too early to tell. Already, forecasting models based on artificial intelligence are noting a strengthening of the Fernández-Fernández ticket, as Kcore-Analytics figures show.
Projecting out into the future at a moment of such deep uncertainty is a dangerous thing. Alberto and Cristina are close to snatching Massa’s support, as they dream with winning Buenos Aires Province with the Tigre man’s votes and former economy minister Axel Kicillof’s candidacy. It is looking increasingly possible, even if María Eugenia Vidal remains the country’s most highly regarded politician. It would be nearly impossible for the ruling Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition to hold onto the Casa Rosada if the nation’s most populous province is lost.
In Macri’s camp, though, they remain optimistic. The electoral team, composed mainly of Ecuadorean adviser Durán Barba and Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña, expect fear over the return of Kirchnerism will overtake anger over Macri’s economic disaster. They’ve pushed the strategy of antagonising with everything named Kirchner, and they count with the implicit support of certain sectors of the Judiciary, as corruption cases move forward in Comodoro Py. Macri appears set to open the VP spot to members of his alliance, including Radicals of the UCR Party and even socalled “Rational Peronists.” They expect defeat in the upcoming PASO primaries but are not troubled, as long as they don’t come in third, which could quickly unsettle markets and really mess up their strategy.
The horrible numbers they must be looking at are surely a cause for concern. But Durán Barba and Peña know Cristina’s silence cannot, and will not, last forever.