By: Thomas David Alvarez, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
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During the May 25 Revolution celebration in Buenos Aires, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, often referred to by her initials CFK, addressed thousands outside of the Casa Rosada (“Pink House,” Argentina’s House of Government) for the last time as head of state. She spoke little of the 1810 Revolution, but rather provided a reminiscence of the past 12 years under Kirchner rule.  “We are the government of change and transformation,” she said. “Néstor had to rebuild and bring together the pieces of the country that had been left after the 2001 crisis.”  Her speech came at a pivotal time for Argentine politics, five months prior to the general presidential elections.
Come December, Argentina, to the dismay of many, will be without a Kirchner as president for the first time in 12 years. Cristina and her late husband and predecessor, Néstor, currently hold the record for the longest consecutive presidential reign of any Argentine leader since the nineteenth century.  Their political legacy has come to be known as Kirchnerismo (Kirchnerism). Cristina (2007-Present) and Néstor (2003-2007) have much to show for their time in office. Under Néstor, Argentina recovered from the 2001 economic crisis, one of the worst in its history.  Under Cristina, Argentina has experienced abundant accomplishments: the incredible reduction of the national poverty rate (from 57 percent to 25 percent); numerous social policies such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, the progression of transgender rights, and her universal child aid program Asignación Universal por Hijo; as well as the creation of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Productive Innovation.  Cristina does not intend to let these accomplishments be forgotten.
“It is not about leaving or staying,” she said at the May 25 celebration. “This is a collective project, not one person’s. It depends on all of you so that it deepens.”  Cristina asked the people to respect and pay tribute to her and her late husband’s work by electing a pro-Kirchner candidate in the October presidential elections. Although constitutionally prohibited from serving another presidential term, Cristina has made it clear that she intends to do all in her power to guarantee the continuation of Kirchnerismo, achieve political immunity from corruption allegations, and, arguably, ensure her reelection in the 2019 presidential race.
Past Attempts at Continuing Kirchnerismo
In October of 2012, Cristina extended the national voting age to 16-18 year olds, permitting more than 500,000 to vote in national elections.  CFK labeled this as expanding democratic participation to the country of 40 million. It does not take a political analyst to conclude that this, while presented as a progression of Argentine democracy, was nothing more than a blatant scheme to gain support among millennials. This act mimicked the legalization of women’s voting put forth by Evita, granting the Peróns millions of suffragette enthusiasts. While neither case is inherently undemocratic, the underlying motives for their ratifications cannot be ignored.
Further, in 2012, political rumors circulated that Cristina had plans to amend the constitution, allowing for a third presidential term, which she could obtain in the 2015 elections. Around this time, CFK assured her supporters, “Do not worry. I will be wherever I need to be, and I will continue to do what I have always done, which is to participate and work.”  This rumor went so far that opposition congressional members began collecting signatures to block any such executive amendment.  This speculation also sparked great public protests, where dissidents waved signs reading, “No to reforming the constitution,” while others chanted, “The dictatorship of K is going to end!”  Since this nationwide rebellion, Cristina has steered away from such activity, accepting the impossibility of reelection in 2015 and has since scoped out new political means for ensuring the continuation of Kirchnerismo.
In addition to these past actions, CFK’s involvement in the 2015 presidential race proves her willingness to ensure the survival of her legacy.
CFK Involvement in 2015 Presidential Race
Of the 13 presidential candidates to compete in the August 9 open primaries, two have risen above the rest to become the top contenders: Daniel Scioli and Mauricio Macri. Scioli, running under the slogan of “Continuidad” (‘continuity’) and “Oficialismo” (‘officialism’), has become the top contender for the ruling leftist Frente para la Victoria (FpV) party or Kirchnerismo.  Scioli currently serves as the Buenos Aires provincial governor and previously served as vice president under Néstor Kirchner from 2003-2007. To the right, Macri, the current mayor of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, has risen as the most prominent opposition candidate. Macri is the leading candidate from the conservative Propuesta Republicana Party (PRO), and is running under the slogan “el cambio” (“change”). 
When asked to name her favorite 2015 presidential candidate, CFK responded: “Kings had favorites… no, no, no… That—meaning favoritism in presidential succession—was part of monarchic systems. It has no place in democracies.”  Her actions say something else, however. Within the past few weeks, several controversial maneuvers signal that Cristina has some other tricks up her sleeve to ensure the continuation of her legacy.
In mid-May, it was announced that several presidential candidates on the left had dropped out of the race. “We consider it important to strengthen and accompany our partner President Cristina Fernández,” read an official party statement.  “We do it with full confidence in the leadership of the President who has always made decisions prioritizing the interests of the Argentinean people, workers, and the humble,” the report continued.  This announcement followed Cristina’s call for a “humility bath” of many presidential hopefuls in her party.  This mass dropout of candidates left two key Kirchnerites, Daniel Scioli and Florencio Randazzo, as the main FpV contenders. Cristina’s great influence and control over her cohorts empowered her to hand pick the FpV candidate that would be most useful to her.
Earlier this month, CFK suspiciously met with Daniel Scioli behind closed doors amid the kickoff of the Argentina vs. Uruguay match of the American Cup series. Shortly thereafter, Scioli announced that his running mate would be Carlos Zannini, current Legal and Technical Secretary, referred to by some as Cristina’s loyal henchman.  There is little doubt that Cristina holds sole responsibility for this selection, now recognized as a smart political move by both her friends and enemies. Scioli, who has been criticized by many within his own party, now has a greater chance of winning in October. To many, Zannini is considered a symbol of Cristina, immensely increasing Scioli’s popularity among doubtful Kirchnerites.
Hebe de Bonafini, leader of the human rights group, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, is an example of this. Bonafini has previously been very critical of Scioli, scolding him for his conservativeness and his indifference toward human rights. Following Scioli’s vice president announcement, Bonafini stated, “We did not change our mind about Scioli. We have not made a decision yet. We have to discuss it, but we trust Cristina. She is the real leader of this project. She has never abandoned us and knows very well what she wants.”  Bonafini maintains great political power and influence in Argentina, and her statement was of dire necessity to the Scioli campaign. “For a long time, I have said that Cristina had an ace up her sleeve. I know her, I know how intelligent she is, so this did not surprise me,” Bonafini said.  James Neilson of the Buenos Aires Herald speculates, “If Scioli manages to get elected, he will either be done away with in a palace coup or, should his luck hold up, be kept a prisoner in the Pink House.”  In handpicking her cabinet member as Scioli’s running mate, Cristina has circumvented the Constitution’s presidential term limit and ensured both the continuation of her reign, as well as her protection from future prosecution. 
Around the time of Scioli’s announcement on June 16, Cristina also met with other FpV presidential candidate Florencio Randazzo. The following morning, Randazzo announced the retraction of his presidential bid.  Cristina has denied allegations that she had any say in this. “The President never told Randazzo not to run as a presidential hopeful. She only told him that Zannini was Scioli’s running-mate and that she would like him to run for the province,” stated Fernando Espinoza, Kirchnerite mayor of La Matanza.  After deciding that Scioli would be more useful to her as President, Cristina attempted to persuade Randazzo to support her cause elsewhere in the government. However, Randazzo refused. “Running against Zannini was running against CFK,” he tweeted.  Immediately following his statement, the CFK Administration has distanced itself from Randazzo. Secretary Sergio Bernie claims, “He has caused terrible damage to our political project… Sometimes this political project requires us to be in less visible roles, but not less important.”  In standing up to Cristina, Randazzo has derailed his political career and lost the support of many in his party.
Despite constitutional prohibition from obtaining a third presidential term, there was previous speculation as to whether Cristina intended to run for a legislative position in her home province Santa Cruz. Cristina, however, has stressed that she will not be running for any such position. Nevertheless, she has put forth several powerful and influential allies, including her son Máximo, as Kirchnerite legislative hopefuls. Patricio Giusto, director of the Diagnóstico Político consulting firm, adds, “If Scioli loses… at least the continuity of Kirchnerismo is guaranteed via the significant legislative representation it will have.”  On June 20, Máximo, 38, announced his candidacy for a congressional seat in Santa Cruz province. Like his mother, he will be running under the ruling FpV party in an attempt to continue “pure Kirchnerismo” in the Argentine legislature.  Aside from political influence, holding a seat in Congress will ensure the Kirchners’ parliamentary immunity and other privileges protecting them from potential judicial investigations.  Máximo, as well as Cristina, has been under fire for allegations of money laundering through the hotel company Hotesur SA. In extending her influence beyond the Casa Rosada into the legislature, Cristina has ensured both the continuation of her legacy as well as her protection from corruption scandal.
Corruption Charges and Attempts at Judicial Immunity
Throughout their 12 years in office, accusations of corruption have plagued the Kirchner administration, and, although none of these claims have been confirmed, they are worth further consideration. For starters, political supporters and business cronies of CFK have been patronized with government subsidies and contracts.  Additionally, Cristina and her late husband have been connected to an underground money-laundering network. Many question the origin of the Kirchner riches, including the luxurious Manhattan lifestyle of CFK’s daughter, Florencia. Argentine investigative reporter Jorge Lanata has speculated on potential international bank accounts as well as secret vaults located in the Kirchner mansion.  Cristina has hesitated to respond to such allegations, claiming them to be political schemes by opposition media groups.  Argentine courts and prosecutors struggle to further these investigations, as many of them have received death threats. 
In connection with these corruption accusations, Cristina pushed several controversial judicial reform bills in 2013, quoting the importance of passing such reforms in the name of the people and Argentine democracy. “It’s something people demand,” she stated. “People perceive that justice does not reach the powerful; they perceive justice is slow… it has many flaws.” 
Firstly, in a vote of 126 to 10, the Chamber of Deputies approved setting a six-month time limit on prosecutions against the state, potentially allowing the Kirchner Administration to dodge corruption allegations that predate six months.  Secondly, the congressional chamber narrowly passed a bill in a 130-123 vote, stating that the people will be directly involved in electing members to the Consejo de la Magistratura (Council of Magistrates), the body that appoints national judges and other officials to the judiciary, arguably leaving the judicial branch vulnerable to political influence.  The bill’s opponents argued that this would allow the political coercion of national judges, in theory protecting Cristina and her administration from corruption charges. Despite her best efforts, however, this attempt at judicial immunity failed when, in June 2013, the Argentine Supreme Court ruled this bill unconstitutional.  While CFK rightfully acknowledged judiciary flaws and sluggishness, the motives for which she did so were utterly corrupt.
Although Cristina is prohibited from obtaining a consequential presidential term in 2015, she is constitutionally permitted to run for a third term in 2019 and many argue that she has set herself up to do so. “I will always be with you, in both the good and the bad moments,” she assured her followers in a weekly national address.  Given the populist nature of Peronism, the foundational political ideology of Kirchnerism, many Kirchnerites fear that a new Peronist leader, gaining adoration of the masses, would eclipse Cristina and all her fame. Eduardo Fidanza, director of Poliarquía, a major Argentine political polling company, infers, “If a Peronist wins, she [CFK] will eventually disappear. Peronism only responds to a single leader; but if Mauricio Macri [an opposition contender] wins, she might want to return as the leader of the opposition like [Michelle] Bachelet, Chilean President.”  For this reason, many among her party doubt that she wants her party to win the October election, so that she may return in 2019.
Some extremists theorize that CFK intentionally devised the economic crisis in a way that it would explode in early 2016. James Neilson of the Buenos Aires Herald suggests, “By spending all the available money, piling up unpayable debts, and hiring huge numbers of unnecessary public employees,” the masses will take to the streets and demand the return of their dear leader, Cristina.  While this speculation may be extreme, one cannot ignore the abundant and controversial political maneuvers that have been made throughout Cristina’s presidency.
Throughout the past 12 years, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has made a name for herself as both a celebrated icon and a fraudulent criminal. Under the Kirchner Administration, Argentina has withstood economic meltdowns and international scandals, rising as one of the most socially progressive nations in the Western Hemisphere. Cristina has used these great societal strides as ammunition in her battle to maintain power and protection. Her time is up, and, whether she likes it or not, she will be forced to abdicate the presidency in December. She has lined up her troops, though, and is prepared for any outcome that may ensue this election season. If fellow Kirchnerite Scioli wins, Cristina will maintain control and protection through means of his vice president, and her loyal ally, Carlos Zannini. If conservative Macri wins, Cristina can at least count on the continuation of Kirchnerismo through congressional power, as well as the potential for reelection in 2019. Given past and recent maneuvers by CFK, her goals and intentions have become clear: ensure the continuation of Kirchnerismo, achieve political immunity from corruption allegations, and, arguably, guarantee her reelection in 2019.
By: Thomas David Alvarez, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
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Featured Photo: CFK 25 May Celebration