"Don't you feel relieved?" Alberto Fernández was asked, hours after making his intention not to seek re-election public. "It's not relief that I feel. I am relieved that I have done what I had to do," the president replied.
The head of state has decided not to run, but he is not willing to withdraw from the electoral debate entirely. He wants to become the main driving force behind the competition within Frente de Todos. "I want to generate a great openness in the space. That's what throws them off balance," he tells his inner circle at the Quinta de Olivos presidential residency, when they speak about electoral strategy. The dispute with Kirchnerism will continue.
The head of state will challenge the sector of the ruling coalition led by Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and says that power will now have to be decided at the PASOs. "If we have to set up a party in each province, we will do it," he said in private, just minutes before entering Friday’s Partido Justicialista (PJ) meeting.
Alberto Fernández assures those around him that he will have a candidate for president. He does not believe that there will be a unity list. And, in this sense, he rules out the possibility of Sergio Massa’s candidacy. Regarding his preference, the head of state knows that Daniel Scioli could drop out of the race through a negotiation with Kirchnerite leaders and that is why he has put the head of Cabinet, Agustín Rossi, in competition.
In the seven-minute video that confirmed his decision not to run for a second term, Alberto Fernández sent several targeted messages to the Kirchnerite wing. One of them is about "giving the pen” to party activists. "I appropriated the word 'democracy'," he says, assessing that Kirchnerism will not be able to reject the call for internal elections and that it cannot tell the people that it is not up to them to choose who represents them. Regarding competition with the vice-president’s followers, the president assures that the space surrounding CFK has "enormous difficulties" in organising an alternative. As an example, from Olivos they review this year's elections so far in Neuquén, Río Negro and Chubut and say that where La Cámpora plays "they get a beating."
The head of state is positioning himself as the leader of a sector that privately celebrates the fact that he has challenged Kirchnerism. He says nothing about the numbers in the polls or the disapproval rating of his administration and the decision to withdraw his candidacy. There are still two months to go before the closing of the lists and now we will have to wait to see who accompanies him in this adventure – even if he is no longer the candidate.
This Saturday, Alberto Fernández coordinated a plan with Social Development Minister Victoria Tolosa Paz to hold an event in Ensenada. "If we have to set up [teams] in each province, we will do it," he was heard to say, according to his entourage. He has a candidate for president and a candidate for Buenos Aires Province governor that can fight an internal battle with Axel Kicillof. Those in his intimate circle assure that many governors and PJ leaders have sent messages to the head of state's mobile phone supporting his decision to withdraw, but also celebrating his decision to "set limits" for the young people who respond to the Senate's leader. "La Cámpora will compete in the PASO against Peronism," concludes the head of state, before heading Friday’s PJ meeting in Matheu Street, which lasted just over half an hour.
Upon landing at the Quinta de Olivos, President Fernández called his closest officials. He told some of them by telephone and others in person, once they arrived at the official residence. On Thursday afternoon, after an event in Mar del Plata, the head of state told his inner circle that he would announce that he would not run for another term and that he would record a video that same night. Those who were informed of his decision include Juan Manuel Olmos (Deputy Cabinet Chief), Santiago Cafiero (Foreign Minsiter), Julio Vitobello (Secretary General to the Presidency), Vilma Ibarra (Legal & Technical Secretary) and Gabriela Cerruti (Spokesperson).
This decision came as a surprise to his two partners in the ruling coalition. Economy Minister Sergio Massa was in Olivos on Thursday morning, but the head of state did not give him any advance notice. Much less the vice-president. In this new scenario, all eyes are now on them and their possible candidates. "There will be a PASO. The candidates will flourish," says one of the leaders closest to the head of state. Within Kirchnerite circles, they also agree. In the vice-president's inner circle, they are preparing to compete.
And what about Massa? Is he the candidate of unity? The economy minister dodges the bad news for which the portfolio he manages is responsible and moves closer to politics, although he says otherwise. He promises dollars for the campaign. But there is mistrust and one leader believes that in order to take office "he asked for all the money and they gave it to him." He promised, he promised and the results have not been forthcoming. "Alberto says that there are PASO and so does Kirchnerism. This leaves out Sergio," evaluates one important Peronist leader.
"Alberto Fernández's decision shows his generosity and leaves a mark for the future. Responsibility and unity is the way forward," the leader of the Frente Renovador declared on social media in the wake of the president’s decision. Massa accompanied it with another phrase, perhaps debuting a possible campaign slogan? "I believe in Argentina," he wrote.
In the initial hours after learning of the news, the Senate remained silent. The order from the vice-presidential sector was "Restraint and respect for the president's decision." La Cámpora expressed itself through social networks thus: "The president's decision opens a new stage to reorder the priorities of the Frente de Todos, which must work to build an alternative that recovers the hope and dreams of Argentines," wrote the group. A curiosity: they used a photo of the closing of the 2017 campaign in which Cristina Fernández de Kirchner competed as senator to illustrate the call.