Will Cristina Fernandez’s Surprise Political Ploy Work in Argentina?

Will Cristina Fernandez’s Surprise Political Ploy Work in Argentina?
Presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez, left, and his running mate, former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, greet supporters during their kick-off campaign rally, Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 25, 2019 (AP photo by Gustavo Garello).

It sounds like the most improbable political script. Everyone is waiting for the candidate, a hardened political veteran backed by an army of loyal supporters, to declare her run for president. Opinion polls already place her ahead in the race. But then, unexpectedly and on an otherwise quiet Saturday morning, she announces it is actually the vice presidency, not the presidency, that she will seek. She announces a hand-picked nominee for president, someone who has been out of the limelight for nearly a decade. He quickly accepts. Her supporters seem a little startled but unfazed.

Then, on the following Tuesday, she appears in court as a defendant in the first of a long line of corruption trials that are expected to run parallel to the campaign. They do not seem to worry her much. Even if found guilty, she is unlikely to go to prison. After all, as a serving senator, and possibly a future vice president, she enjoys immunity.

Welcome to the strange world of Argentine politics. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the former first lady to President Nestor Kirchner and then president in her own right from 2007 to 2015, will not, as so many expected, challenge incumbent President Mauricio Macri this fall. Even though her center-right successor is struggling to contain a relentless economic crisis, and many Argentines as a result seem to be turning back to Fernandez and to her distinctive brand of nationalist, left-wing populism, she will instead be the running mate for one of her former ministers, Alberto Fernandez—no relation.

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