The critics, by voicing
their complaints so
early against the new
will be short. But this
early searing criticism
is like filing for divorce
before getting married.
At the time this column was being written, to meet
the newspaper’s deadline, president-elect Alberto
Fernández, at the helm of a Peronist coalition, was
poised to name his entire Cabinet and outgoing
President Mauricio Macri was scheduled to deliver
a national broadcast speech summing up his four
years in office.
Macri, the leader of the centre-right Cambiemos coalition,
has also called a farewell rally in Plaza de Mayo for this afternoon and there’s also anticipation about an
interview to be released tomorrow night. The
outgoing president is not going out quietly.
His campaigners continue to spin webs designed to ensure the outgoing president’s
political survival, in spite of the 48-40 percent
first-round electoral defeat he suffered on
The transition has been relatively smooth,
but it is also a time to come to terms with the
outcome, especially given that former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is back
in the picture. It was she who, out of nowhere, anointed her former Cabinet chief and
positioned herself as his running-mate earlier this year. Fernández de Kirchner is now
the vice-president-elect, even after being vilified by much of the press for four years. The
notion that she will be back in power next week is still sinking
in for many of her detractors.
Fernández de Kirchner faces numerous corruption allegations and made a court appearance on Monday to voice her
defence in one of those cases. The ferocity of that defence in
front of the judges irked critics. It was a display of power by a
political survivor. In court, the former president implied that the
judges should investigate the Cabinet chiefs in charge of executing the budgets now under suspicion. And guess who was a
Kirchnerite Cabinet chief between 2003 and 2008? Alberto
Fernández, that’s who.
The president-elect called CFK’s court appearance a “formidable defence.” Alberto himself was busy on Twitter arguing
with a top investigative journalist now investigating possible
connections between his associates and Kirchnerite construction moguls being probed for graft.
The critics, by voicing their complaints so early against the
new government, risk overkill. Arguably Alberto Fernández’s
honeymoon will be short. But this early searing criticism is like
filing for divorce before getting married.
Macri avoided political humiliation by garnering over 10
million votes on October 27. But he leaves behind a rocketing
inflation rate, rising poverty and unemployment. The most
spectacular aspect of his defeat, which is not talked about much,
is that he concludes his mandate with strict foreign currency
controls. Macri did away with the Kirchnerite controls overnight
upon taking office in 2015. But now the incoming administration
has the advantage of blaming the draconian regulations on the
PRO leader, who had considered himself a champion of neoliberal policies for most of his adult life and leaves office banning
purchases any higher than US$200 a month. You can almost
hear Ayn Rand turning over in her grave.
Yet listen to Macri’s supporters for a minute: he is the first non-Peronist president to
serve out a constitutional four-year mandate
in nearly a century and navigated his mandate without a majority in Congress. He
claims he had no choice but to make the
people swallow unpopular policies – like
huge utility rate hikes – to lay the foundations
for future economic growth. The president
has claimed this suffices to claim the title of
the undisputed leader of the opposition.
Macri, however, faces a huge challenge because the title rarely means anything here
when a new president takes office. The real
political dispute will only unfold closer to the
presidential elections scheduled for 2023. No
clear leader of the opposition is likely to
emerge before that time.
Alberto Fernández meanwhile has said that there is an orchestrated campaign in the press to smash the united Peronist
front that won the election. The Peronists have a gruesome
history of internal infighting and backstabbing but the president-elect said nonetheless that his standing unity with Fernández de Kirchner and with the new Lower House Speaker Sergio
Massa will not be destroyed.
Massa, who has his electoral base in northern Greater Buenos
Aires, is a Peronist who turned on Fernández de Kirchner in
2013. He was third in the presidential elections won by Macri
in 2015. Yet Massa has since mended fences with the Kirchnerite wing. On Wednesday he was formally nominated as
speaker by lawmaker Máximo Kirchner, the former president’s
son who is now the leader of the Peronist caucus. The fate of
the new Peronist coalition hinges on how Alberto Fernández,
CFK and Massa interact.
There was a moment of interaction between Alberto Fernández and Massa which was especially significant. The presidentelect said on Tuesday Massa had a bright political future ahead
of him. The 47-year-old Massa is the “best prepared” of his
generation to be president, Alberto Fernández said. The biggest
political challenge for the president-elect is to juggle a complex
Peronist coalition. The praise for Massa, after reportedly refusing to name one of his allies as security minister amid Kirchnerite complaints, is part of that juggling act.
How Massa and Máximo Kirchner get on in the lower house
Chamber of Deputies is also crucial for the new government.
The session there this week was charged with symbolism:
Massa, on taking the speaker’s chair, showered praise on his
predecessor: Emilio Monzó, a former centre-right Peronist
operative when he was drafted by Macri in 2015 to preside over
the Lower House. Yet almost immediately Monzó was at odds
with Macri’s inner circle that recommended against cutting
deals to bring more old-school Peronists into the centre-right
When addressing the Lower House on Wednesday, Massa
vowed to emulate Monzó in preaching “dialogue” between rival
parliamentary forces. Macri’s coalition had initially claimed that
it would be the first minority in the Lower House with 119 lawmakers out of 257. But already it has suffered the defection of
three, much to the outrage of the outgoing president, who said
they had “betrayed” his confidence. The Peronist front is now
close to controlling the Lower House. The latest count in the
Senate, which will be headed by Fernández de Kirchner, shows
the Peronist caucus with a mighty majority of 42 seats out of
This Peronist dominance, however, could fall apart if things
go wrong (as it did during the stand-off with the farmers in
2008). But right here and now, the shift in the electoral landscape is indeed dramatic – even when the outgoing president
and part of his electoral base is behaving like it isn’t happening.