xOn December 10, debt-ridden Argentina will have
a new president: Alberto Fernández.
He is the product of a united Peronist coalition
pulled out of a top hat in May by former president
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Currently all
the speculation centres on what kind of president Alberto Fernández will be – and who will make up his
Cabinet. It’s also about what kind of vice-president Fernández
de Kirchner will make. CFK’s surprise move back in May included relegating herself to the position of running-mate.
Argentina has a history of presidents who campaigned doing
one thing and then ended up doing another. Some observers
say the same thing may happen with Fernández, who won with the backing of Kirchnerite voters plus Peronist voters, like
Sergio Massa, who had faced off electorally
speaking with Fernández de Kirchner, starting in 2013.
The spin-doctors in Macri’s camp, especially Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña, should be
kicking themselves. They lost the election
48-40 percent on October 27 in the first round
after failing to fathom the dimension of the
Peronist unity spawned earlier this year.
Alberto Fernández basically won the election
with a landslide victory in Greater Buenos
Aires, the sprawling working-class belt that
surrounds Argentina’s capital. So why
should the new president go against the expectations of his
electoral base in that Kirchnerite bastion?
Alberto Fernández and Fernández de Kirchner met during
the week to discuss the new Cabinet. What emerged is that
the president-elect will dominate the Cabinet. The former
president will control Congress, thanks to an agreement with
her former foe, Massa.
Massa will be the new lower house speaker. Máximo Kirchner,
the former president’s son, will reportedly be the caucus leader
in the Chamber of Deputies, which the new ruling coalition will
not control. So if you must look ahead to the future, it looks like
the Peronist unity we’re witnessing hinges on Alberto, Massa
and Máximo. Looking further ahead Massa and Máximo could
be imagining they have a bright political future together. Where does that leave Alberto Fernández? It leaves him in Government House, consulting his policies with Fernández de Kirchner,
her son and Massa.
The Peronist coalition is close to controlling the Senate, which
will be overseen by Fernández de Kirchner (even when there
are struggles to unite a single Peronist caucus in the upper
house). In this context don’t expect the new president to shift
radically to neoconservative policies like Carlos Menem, who
was also a Peronist, did when he won the presidency in 1989.
Still, Alberto Fernández is clearly the chief executive officer
here. He has held telephone conversations with the new head
of the International Monetary Fund, presided over a gathering
to organise a plan to fight hunger, and is also in the process of
assembling a council to hammer out a social pact, which could
be chaired by former economy minister Roberto Lavagna (who
finished a distant third in the recent presidential vote).
Fernández, in some way, knows what he’s walking into. The
new head of state served as Cabinet chief during Néstor
Kirchner’s presidency in 2003-2007. The late
leader tried to pragmatically pull Argentina
out of a huge financial crisis, but without
swallowing neoliberal economic policies
along the way. Already there are signs that
Alberto Fernández – who before his anointing was a key backroom Peronist party
operative – will try to emulate his former
For instance the president-elect, reportedly irking Pope Francis in the process, has
confirmed he intends to table a bill to decriminalise abortion upon taking office. Kirchner, as a lawmaker, famously threw his
weight behind the widely-supported samesex marriage bill in 2010 – when Cristina was
in the Casa Rosada.
Outgoing President Mauricio Macri tabled an abortion bill in
2018 but the landmark legislation was voted down in the Senate.
The PRO leader was technically neutral as the abortion bill debate raged, but he clearly came out against legalisation during
the presidential campaign, in a bid to shore up conservative votes.
Now Macri’s dithering on the issue of abortion has handed
Alberto Fernández a chance, on a plate,
to champion a key feminist cause in
what could be a defining moment right
at the start of his presidency. It’s an issue
that could shift attention away from
Why did Macri even send the abortion
bill to Congress in the first place? That’s
a question history will have to answer.
But right here and now, the abortion
issue has thrown the current administration into disarray. The latest fumble
involves Adolfo Rubinstein, Macri’s
health secretary. He issued a resolution
to officialise a procedure for non-punishable abortions in state-run institutions,
purportedly without reporting it to his
superiors beforehand. Rubinstein’s decision outraged the conservative wing of
Macri’s coalition. (At the time this column was being written the president
had decided to scrap the resolution on
the non-punishable abortion protocol.)
This latest sloppy row in the ruling
coalition could tarnish the president’s
departure. Macri has planned a farewell
demonstration on December 7, but the
negative headlines are about exactly
why Macri has chosen to deal so publicly
with an internal spat about abortion, so
close to the end of his mandate. The president, who garnered
10 million votes in October, wishes to become the leader of the
opposition. But with gaffes like these he risks turning himself
into the leader of the opposition against himself.
As things now stand, the new president will sponsor the approval of a bill to decriminalise abortion, with Macri’s sloppy
handling of the issue still fresh in the memory of voters. The
landscape will shift dramatically on December 10 with Alberto
Fernández in office (and the expected demonstration).
Already the economic tone is changing too. The Chamber of
Deputies has approved the first reading of bills to regulate rents
and the display of products in supermarkets.