Can Alberto Fernandez Escape From His Vice President’s Shadow in Argentina?

Can Alberto Fernandez Escape From His Vice President’s Shadow in Argentina?
Argentine President Alberto Fernandez speaks to supporters as Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is projected on a screen behind him outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec. 10, 2019 (AP photo by Natacha Pisarenko).

From the moment he took office as Argentina’s president last December, Alberto Fernandez has been constrained by two realities. The first is the country’s grave economic crisis, which he inherited from his pro-business predecessor, Mauricio Macri. Argentina’s GDP is projected to contract for the third year in a row in 2020, while inflation is expected to top 40 percent, all while the government tries to restructure its staggering foreign debt.

The second constraining reality is Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who was initially expected to run for president last year but instead picked Fernandez—who is not related—for the top of her ticket. A former two-term president, she remains the most powerful political figure in the country and controls the left wing of a diverse Peronist coalition. Her power and influence make it difficult for Alberto Fernandez to present a vision that can set Argentina on a stable path of reforms in order to avoid constant crises and debt defaults.

Amid these challenges, Fernandez has so far confirmed his reputation as a pragmatic negotiator, balancing between the left wing of his coalition and more moderate sectors that he helped bring back into the Peronist fold only recently. With the support of this diverse group, the president got an emergency fiscal consolidation package through Congress in late December, including tax increases, restrictions on the currency market, limits to pension and salary raises, and a renegotiation of the debt with foreign creditors. To bolster the legislation’s public support, Fernandez shrewdly labeled it a “solidarity bill,” since it mostly raises revenue from the middle class and from privileged Argentines while preserving the income of the poorest. The president hopes these measures will convince private bondholders and the International Monetary Fund of the government’s willingness to stick to fiscal moderation.

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