Upon arriving at the Quinta de Olivos, Alberto Fernández called his closest officials. He told some of them by phone and others in person, some once they arrived at the official presidential residence for talks. On Thursday afternoon, after an event in Mar del Plata, the head of state began to tell his inner circle that he would soon announce that he would not run for a new term. He would record a video that same night.
The video was posted on the president’s social media accounts. It was the same medium through which, on May 18, 2019, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced that Alberto Fernández would be the Frente de Todos candidate for president. Almost four years on, also through a video, the head of state was announcing that he would not run for re-election.
Now that he is out of the electoral race, Fernández wants to get involved in the PASO primaries. He doesn’t want the vice-president, who brought him to the Casa Rosada, to have all the say. He will say who is his candidate.
Nor does he want more pressure. As Perfil has reported, Kirchnerismo fired its first warning weeks ago: if he wants to compete, he should do so in all categories. This meant that candidates like Axel Kicillof in Buenos Aires Prrovince would not be on their ticket. The other warning was due to come this afternoon at the meeting of the Partido Justicialista national council: he had to define his candidacy now.
President Fernández had already said that his decision would be known in May. The timing eventually was brought forward, especially after a week in which the markets paid too much attention to the rumour mill. The reports of Sergio Massa's resignation from the economy portfolio, the measures that the president’s now ex-chief adviser, Antonio Aracre, wanted to implement, and the endless internal bickering within Frente de Todos had generated a reaction from the markets that a photo between Fernández and Massa did little to quell.
Something more had to be done. In the end, the president decided alone that it was time to make his decision public.
The head of state knows that Daniel Scioli could negotiate with Kirchnerite leaders and withdraw his pre-candidacy for the ruling coalition’s nomination. That is why he has put Cabinet Chief Agustín Rossi in competition.
For weeks he has been talking about democratising the party. "We have to make a transition," the president tells his trusted inner circle at the Quinta de Olivos. "When they say that Cristina is banned, what they are saying is that no-one can be a candidate, except the one she puts forward. I am not going to let that happen." The president does not want to hand over the pen.
The head of state was never going to run for re-election without reaching a minimum consensus. “They were the worst four years of my life," Alberto Fernández went so far as to back in February to his intimate allies. The president was reviewing his administration and describing his achievements in the midst of a pandemic and a war, to which the drought has now been added.
The decision came as a surprise to his two partners. Sergio Massa was at Olivos earlier in the morning, but the head of state did not give him any advance notice of the news. Much less the vice-president, who found out through social networks that he will not be a candidate. With this scenario, the chance of a meeting between the president and his running-mate has been dispelled.
Eyes are now turning to Sergio 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, even if he says otherwise. He promises dollars for the campaign. But there is mistrust – one leader believes that in order to take office, "he asked for all the buttons and they gave them to him." He promised, he promised, and the results are not forthcoming.
In the immediate hours after the president's resignation became known, the Senate was silent. "Restraint and respect for the president's decision," was the order issued by the vice-presidential camp. Only Interior Minister Eduardo ‘Wado’ De Pedro spoke, saying that it was a “necessary” step to deliver “order” for the ruling coalition.
He gave no clues as to the next move that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will now have to make.