May 20, 2019 | 18:03 GMT

4 mins read

Argentina: Cristina Fernandez's Election Choice Marks an Appeal to Moderates

The Big Picture

In its second-quarter forecast, Stratfor predicted that pro-business Argentine President Mauricio Macri would face an uphill battle this quarter to improve his approval ratings ahead of Argentina's presidential election in October. We also identified former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as the most likely challenger to Macri. A surprise announcement by Fernandez this weekend reveals that she will not be a presidential candidate, but her designation of a political heir to run for the presidency means that the challenges for Macri have not changed.

What Happened

A surprise announcement May 18 is shaking Argentina's political environment. Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who was expected to challenge incumbent President Mauricio Macri, said she will run for the vice presidency of the country in the presidential election in October, and that Alberto Fernandez, the former chief of Cabinet of her late husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, will run for the presidency.

Why It Matters

Cristina Fernandez's announcement is meant to improve the chances of the Kirchneristas (her populist political group) returning to power after four years of a conservative administration led by Macri, who belongs to the Republican Proposal party. Cristina Fernandez, a member of the Justicialist Party, is a divisive figure in Argentina because she has a relatively large voting base — opinion polls put those intending to vote for her at around 35 percent — but a large segment of the electorate also opposes her policies, many of which contributed to Argentina's current economic straits. And unless a candidate obtains more than 45 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election, a runoff vote between the two most popular candidates has to take place.

By choosing to run not for president but as Alberto Fernandez's vice president, Cristina Fernandez is hoping to attract moderate voters, and particularly Peronista voters who would not have supported her. But this is a risky move: Alberto Fernandez may not attract enough moderate voters to win the election, as most Argentines will probably continue to see Cristina as the "real" candidate. And this announcement may not prevent other Peronista candidates from running for the presidency and "stealing" votes from the Fernandez-Fernandez ticket. In any case, Cristina Fernandez's announcement will force Macri to adjust his electoral strategy, as he was hoping that the polarization between himself and Cristina Fernandez could help him win.

By choosing to run not for president but as Alberto Fernandez's vice president, Cristina Fernandez is hoping to attract moderate voters. But this is a risky move.

In the coming weeks, Alberto Fernandez will probably try to present himself to the public as a leader who is not under Cristina Fernandez's control. To do so, he may even criticize some of the economic policies that were implemented during her presidencies between 2007 and 2015. However, he is unlikely to move too far away from the state intervention and big public spending policies that defined her two terms in office. As a result, Alberto Fernandez's candidacy will probably not completely dissipate concerns among some sectors of the local and foreign business establishment about a return to the currency controls, subsidies and substantial state spending policies that Macri has tried to reverse over the past three and a half years.

Looking Ahead

Argentines will head to the polls to select their new president on Oct. 27, and the country will hold a runoff election on Nov. 24 if no candidate wins enough votes in the first round. Argentina's vote will take place during a deep economic crisis (according to the OECD, the Argentine economy will contract by 1.5 percent in 2019), high unemployment and persistently high inflation. In late 2018, the Macri administration signed an agreement for financial assistance with the International Monetary Fund against the backdrop of persistent speculative attacks against the national currency, the peso. These factors have weakened Macri's popularity, opening the door for an opponent — who now seems to be Cristina Fernandez's designated political heir, Alberto Fernandez — to take over.

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