BUENOS AIRES – Alberto Fernandez has just been elected president of Argentina, but before even taking office he faces suggestions that he is a puppet for former President Cristina Kirchner.
Fernandez may have defeated incumbent Mauricio Macri at the polls on Oct. 27, but he did so with Kirchner as his running mate — and soon to be vice president.
It’s led many to wonder who will really be running the country: two-time former President Kirchner (2007-2015) or Fernandez, her ex-Cabinet chief.
“Cristina is not competing for power,” a top official in Fernandez’s inner circle said.
“He will be in charge,” the official added. “They have a great relationship.”
That last claim can be hard for some to stomach given the pair’s history.
Fernandez, who will take office in December, first became Cabinet chief in the government of Kirchner’s late husband, Nestor, from 2003 to 2007.
He maintained the role when Kirchner succeeded her husband but quit a year later over Kirchner’s tough handling of a dispute with farmers over an increase in taxes on agricultural exports.
He became a critic of the movement he helped found and even collaborated with some sectors of the opposition.
He would later say of Kirchner’s second term: “It was a very bad government where it is difficult to find something worthy.”
He has since changed his tone somewhat, insisting now that he and Kirchner “are the same.”
Undoubtedly, though, Kirchner remains the biggest heavyweight in Argentine politics, despite the embarrassment of being implicated in a dozen corruption investigations.
She has already gone to trial in the first of those and only her parliamentary immunity — she’s currently a senator — is keeping her out of pretrial detention.
A clue as to who really has power may come in the following key days when the configuration of the new government will be decided.
Kirchner is heading to Cuba to be with her daughter, Florencia, who is undergoing treatment there for health problems, and will not return until Nov. 11.
For some, it resembles the situation in Russia when Vladimir Putin reached the end of his stipulated two terms as president in 2008, only to switch to the secondary role of prime minister for four years before returning as president.
In the meantime, current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev — Putin’s campaign manager from his 2000 election victory — kept the president’s seat warm.
According to political analyst Raul Aragon, this simply won’t be the case with Fernandez since the headstrong 60-year-old lawyer could never be a “puppet.”
When he was her Cabinet chief, “Cristina couldn’t control him then, much less so now.”
That doesn’t stop some from believing Kirchner will be in command, but the number is decreasing.
“In the collective imagination there’s a portion of the population that believes Cristina will govern and others believe it will be him,” said sociologist and consultant Ricardo Rouvier.
“But in recent days, the proportion that believes it will be him has grown. They view him as more at ease, with greater media presence, more autonomous.”
Many analysts praise Kirchner for a brilliant strategy in designating center-leftist Fernandez to lead the Peronist movement.
He managed to reunite the divided strands of Peronism during the election campaign.
“One day, Cristina rang me and said, “Now it’s your turn,’ ” Fernandez said at his final campaign rally. “Thanks, Cristina for the show of faith.”
It might sound like Kirchner is still pulling the strings, but Rouvier insists Fernandez is in charge.
“I don’t see a dispute that could endanger governance.”
Fernandez has vowed to change the country left behind by Macri, with yearly inflation of 55 percent, poverty at 35 percent, drained central bank reserves and a record external debt.
He has already taken part in the renegotiation of a $10 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund in 2005 but will have to do so again with Argentina having secured a $57 billion bailout package last year.