BUENOS AIRES – Cristina Fernandez took Argentina by surprise on Saturday with her announcement that she will run for vice president – not her nation’s highest office – in general elections in October.
The ex-president, who governed Argentina from 2007 to 2015 and had emerged as the favorite in some voter-preference polls in recent months, will be the running mate of Alberto Fernandez, who once served a short stint as her Cabinet chief in 2008.
She made the announcement in a 12-minute Twitter video, saying that political leaders must be able to put aside their “ambitions and personal vanities” and that that is why she is willing to contribute “from the place in which she can be most useful.”
“This will be about having to govern an Argentina that is once again in ruins, with a people who are once again impoverished ... so it’s clear that the coalition that governs will have to be much broader than the one that ends up winning the elections,” Fernandez said.
She was referring to the current severe economic crisis in recession-hit Argentina and also to the one that her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner (1950-2010), faced when he took office in 2003.
But her remarks also hint at the need for a less controversial candidate at the top of the ticket.
Her surprising decision to run as a vice-presidential candidate shakes up the political landscape ahead of the elections, not only because she a divisive figure in the Peronist political movement to which she belongs but also because President Mauricio Macri’s beleaguered administration, according to analysts, sees an electoral confrontation with the ex-head of state as desirable for the incumbent.
“I’m convinced that this ticket we’re proposing is what’s most needed at this time to bring together a wide range of social, political and economic sectors, not only to win an election but also to govern,” said Fernandez, who is now a senator.
She acknowledged in the video that she and her former Cabinet chief have had their differences in the past, alluding to the latter’s decision to resign in July 2008 after Cristina Fernandez was forced to make a humbling retreat following the Senate’s rejection of her plan to hike taxes on grain exports.
Fernandez said in an interview shortly after resigning that he had stepped down over differences with his then-boss, although he said his decision was intended to “make her life easier.”
But after years of being distanced from one another politically, the two appeared to have grown closer once again in recent weeks, with Cristina Fernandez saying that her former Cabinet chief had encouraged her to write her successful autobiography, “Sinceramente” (Sincerely).
Their ticket will be registered in the so-called open, simultaneous and obligatory primaries (PASO) scheduled for Aug. 11.
It remains unclear at the moment if the Fernandez-Fernandez ticket will compete with others in the center-left opposition Justicialist Party or if they will be a consensus ticket. Several key figures in the Peronist movement who have politically distanced themselves from the former head of state have already announced plans to compete in the primary.
In the video, Cristina Fernandez recalled that when Kirchner took office in 2003 – with the country still suffering the after-effects of a years-long economic depression and a massive debt default in late 2001 – Argentina was facing “very difficult times.”
“But these (times) that Argentines are experiencing now are really dramatic. Never before have so many been sleeping on the street, never so many with problems finding food and work, never so many desperate people crying over unpayable bills,” she said.
“And if we look at the State. My God! The foreign dollar-denominated debt that’s been contracted in just three years is more than the ‘defaulted’ (debt) that Nestor received, although with an additional aggravating factor. Almost 40 percent is with the International Monetary Fund,” Fernandez lamented.
Macri, for his part, said of Fernandez’s announcement during a gathering Saturday with government supporters in Buenos Aires that “going back to the past would only destroy us.”
On Tuesday, Cristina Fernandez took part in a meeting of the Justicialist Party in which she called for unity in a bid to defeat the conservative Macri in the upcoming election.
Macri narrowly defeated Justicialist Party candidate Daniel Scioli, Fernandez’s hand-picked successor, in a runoff in late 2015 in which a high annual inflation rate of around 30 percent was already an issue.
That rate has since climbed to around 50 percent, while a sharp depreciation in the peso relative to the dollar forced Macri to seek a massive IMF bailout package last year.
Corruption charges leveled against Cristina Fernandez, who denies any wrongdoing, are another element ahead of this year’s general elections.
An initial trial on charges of criminal conspiracy and fraud related to a public-works project during her administration will begin on Tuesday.
“I’ve been the victim of the fiercest, most merciless campaign of lies and defamation against me and my family and our (former) government,” Fernandez said on Saturday, though adding that she is not inspired by “hate or resentment.”
She said instead that she wants to contribute to “building a different country” and assume an “immense historical responsibility.”