In Argentina, a political alliance of convenience breaks down

BUENOS AIRES – A political marriage of convenience that once seemed like a stroke of genius is falling apart as Argentina’s president and vice-president blame their party’s tumbling fortunes.

President Alberto Fernández replaced several ministers on Monday after a striking surge from Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who blamed her boss for the deadly defeat their party suffered in this month’s primary elections.

The spat public deepened doubts that the pair at the helm of a nation struggling with debt, poverty and a failing economy can govern effectively. He also renewed interest in an issue that has loomed large since 2019, when Ms Kirchner, a former president, drew up a plan to return to power by putting Mr Fernández at the top of the list: who is really responsible?

Tensions between the two came to a head after their party’s candidates behaved miserably in the September 12 primary elections, raising fears that the ruling coalition would lose its solid majority in Congress in the November midterm elections. .

Ms Kirchner called the result a “political catastrophe” in a statement released late last week on her personal website, and called for heads to fall. In the statement, Ms Kirchner presented herself as a marginalized figure in Mr Fernández’s cabinet whose warnings about the political impact of austerity policies have gone unheeded.

The vice-president attacked officials in the administration, including the spokesperson, and complained of internal maneuvers aimed at sabotaging it. “It’s a shame that there has been so much self-inflicted damage,” she wrote.

As he took stock of the electoral setback, Fernández did little to hide his displeasure with his vice president in social media posts and remarks to a journalist.

“The pomp and arrogance are not my character traits” the president wrote in a message this was interpreted as a reply to Mrs Kirchner. “I will continue to govern as I see fit. “

The finger-pointing and cabinet reshuffle – which have spared ministers responsible for economic policy – have done little to clarify how the government will tackle the serious issues it faces, including rising poverty , inflation and unemployment.

“To run a political process in the midst of a crisis, you need two things: central authority, so the president doesn’t have to consult on every decision he makes, and second, a clear path.” said Lucas Romero, head of Synopsis, a local political consultancy. “Now you don’t have either of those two things. “

Ms Kirchner, who ruled Argentina from 2007 to 2015, handpicked Mr Fernández to lead their electoral roll because she faced several corruption cases that had severely damaged his political image. Mr. Fernández was a constitutional law professor and political agent who had never previously applied for an important electoral post.

Now, political analysts say, as voters fret against Mr Fernández, Ms Kirchner appears to be seeking to be seen as a blameless outsider.

“She was trying to pull away from the electoral defeat,” said Mariel Fornoni, director of Management and Fit, a political consultancy. “But in the process, she ended up weakening the president’s leadership.”

The primaries made it clear that the coalition government that won a landslide victory two years ago has lost its luster.

Some of the country’s problems would have been difficult for any leader to deal with. The devastating toll of Covid-19 in Argentina has exacerbated a multi-year economic recession and made it difficult to control inflation.

But there have also been preventable scandals.

Mr Fernández’s government has come under fire after well-connected figures gained early access to coronavirus vaccines. The president was also taken to task by photographs showing him attending a birthday party for the first lady, Fabiola Yáñez, held in the presidential residence when the country was in lockdown.

Cabinet changes that took effect on Monday, involving Mr. Fernández’s chief of staff (who became foreign minister) and four other ministers, have opened the door to the return of several personalities who were once part of the administration of Mrs. Kirchner.

Andrés Malamud, an Argentinian political scientist at the University of Lisbon, said the measures are unlikely to bring any significant change. He said it was essentially a political gamble.

“The team they have put in place will not govern for two years,” he said. “It’s to get votes back in key provinces so they can then set up another cabinet in December.”

But by focusing on their internal struggles within the coalition, the president and his allies appear to be missing out on the real message from voters, analysts warn.

“What they did shows that they did not understand that people are fed up with political maneuvers that leave them hostages of these decisions,” said Fornoni.

Julián Sanchez, a 44-year-old trader in Buenos Aires, said the events of last week made him more pessimistic about his country’s future.

“They are all fighting against each other rather than trying to solve the disaster they created,” he said. “Everyone I know has a hard time making it to the end of the month.”

Daniel Politi reported from Buenos Aires and Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro.

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