The government board game: the battle for the candidacy

Alberto Fernández is excited. In truth, the President is in a constant emotional seesaw, a feeling that is shared by various priests of the ruling party, especially those who have electoral aspirations. Now, sitting from his office in the Quinta de Olivos, it is a good moment for him. Surveys have just arrived, surveys that the government has been requesting with increasing assiduity and interest, and the president feels that he has something to celebrate.

At this point, already entering the last year of his administration, he became an expert in the art of always looking at the glass as half full. “Look,” Fernández tells the team closest to him, pointing to the papers. “There is no one who is much taller than me, we are all quite even.” His most faithful troops are emboldened: the leader is bad, but not as bad, or just as bad as the rest of the possible candidates of the Frente de Todos, without Cristina Kirchner in the equation. “Then why couldn’t it be Alberto? Let him come, otherwise, a better one and beat him in a few STEP ”, says a member of that team.

It is this warlike logic that prevails, in these days before the storm, in the brain and the circle of the President. And it is a message that reached the camps of the other tribes of the Front, which are preparing to give battle, the last of a war that has been going on for several years. Kirchnerism ran out of patience, and added to the usual darts the increasingly less hidden candidacy of Minister Eduardo De Pedro. 7

Added to this barely implicit threat is the most visible, the one that brings an inflationary economy that Massa seems not to be taming, and that has the Economy Minister nervous and with doubts about his own future. To this fragile scenario was now added the call for the much-requested “political table”, a tool with which Christianity had been trying to put pressure on the President, and in which various strategies and cards will be played so that, in the end, nothing changes. . In the Peronism chair game, everyone takes care of their place.

The other cheek. A minister, who is in frequent contact with the President, leans back on the chair in his office and is sincere, like someone taking a weight off his shoulders. “This table was stillborn. It does not make any sense. The only table that can exist, and that would make sense, is the one that existed at the beginning, that of Cristina (or Máximo), Sergio and Alberto. Anything else is more for the show than anything else, ”he says.

That is a central aspect in this novel. When future historians return to what this government was and try to trace the genesis of the inmate that ended up engulfing this administration, several theses will surely emerge. There will be those who maintain that the first great conflict was when Alberto Fernández, at that time the winning candidate of the PASO 2019, agreed to agree with Mauricio Macri a price for the dollar until the transfer of command arrived, while others will maintain that the knot of this drama must be found in the behind the scenes of the agreement with the Fund and what was the vote on that project in Deputies. However, in these days when the constitution of a space for political debate was once again highlighted, there are several voices that indicate that the breaking point was the disintegration of the first table.

It happened not so long ago, but it seems like an eternity. At the start of the management, and until well into 2021, every Wednesday or Thursday -with some exceptions- Fernández received Massa, De Pedro, Santiago Cafiero, and Máximo Kirchner in Olivos. It was a weekly meeting -sometimes for lunch and other times for dinner- where the different issues of management were debated, at that time greatly affected by the pandemic. Despite the normal sparks of any management, all those who made up that space were more than satisfied with the round trip of those meetings. But at one point something broke into pieces, and the relationship between the parties of the ruling party was never the same again.

It was at some point before the 2021 elections, when the ruling party was in full swing for the assembly of the legislative lists. Like everything that happened in this government, the version changes depending on which side is asked. Kirchnerism says that, in the middle of the debate, Fernández did the worst thing he could do. It was a mortal sin that Alberto himself had already committed in the past -and therefore he was fully aware of the consequences-, when he announced his departure from the Chief of Staff through the cover of the Clarín newspaper.

In this reversal of history, Fernández told analyst Raúl Timerman that the ticket would be headed by Victoria Tolosa Paz in Buenos Aires, and Leandro Santoro in the Capital, something that the man later recounted on C5N. That unital decision to put two of his politicians at the head of the list and above him announcing it to the media, without prior notice, was for Máximo and his space an unforgivable affront. Those who know the mind of the camporista leader say that the decision not to support the agreement with the Fund and resign from his position as head of the bloc in the lower house was a logical correlate of the “betrayal” of the legislative lists, an action that on top of that It was aggravated by the fact that the Frente de Todos made a very bad choice and lost heavily in the Capital and Buenos Aires.

The President and his circle, on the other hand, maintain that the implosion of the first political table occurred because Kirchnerism, represented by Máximo, had been making the preparation of the lists eternal and impossible. “They even fought Alberto for a fifth Calamuchita councilor, it seemed that they really did not want to agree on anything, but rather they wanted to drive him crazy,” says a Fernández sidekick who closely followed those negotiations.

But, regardless of who is right, the truth is that this space for debate and exchange succumbed before the first half of Fernández’s term. And it is what explains why what is coming now does not generate too many expectations in anyone.

Nominated. The invitations for the political meeting were handed out by Juan Manuel Olmos, the deputy chief of staff who accumulates power as that of the rest of his peers wears out: he is one of the few, very few, who has a dialogue with Alberto and Cristina, and the respect of both. His work also stands out at a time when the Casa Rosada is involved in a spiral of uncertainty. Juan Manzur resigned from his position as chief of staff, to return to compete in Tucumán, a strategic withdrawal that is symptomatic of the moment of the Frente de Todos. Fernández, at a lunch they had in the province, had asked the man from Tucumán to hold out in his position until the first days of March, but there was no case: Manzur, relying on the fact that the provincial elections will be on May 14, told him that he had to go now. The replacement, Agustín Rossi (see box), will take over shortly.

The appointment of the political table will be on Thursday 16, at the headquarters of the national PJ. The place contains a clear definition: Alberto plans to play at home, set up the match as he wants, and he does not intend to give up. “He is the president of the party, we are not doing anything we did not want, we had already thought of doing an activity on the 24th and we brought it forward. We receive them in our house and only to talk about the axes for the campaign”, is the warning of albertismo. That is why they want the call to be as broad as possible, to include all sectors, and with the explicit slogan of not debating governability.

That imprisonment was the one that De Pedro and other referents of Kirchnerism feared. “In addition to the electoral strategy and the candidacies, we believe it is necessary to discuss the policies that will be developed to win the electoral majority,” was a message that the minister circulated in private. “’Wado’ is right: it is impossible to discuss the campaign without discussing management, politics. Those who are going to vote for the Frente de Todos this year are the ones who are going to value our management, it is impossible to separate one thing from the other”, says a man who is in frequent contact with the Minister of the Interior.

Why they know well what Albertismo is looking for with this call is that neither Cristina Kirchner – who exchanged some messages with Alberto after the episode of De Pedro against him – nor Máximo are going to attend the invitation. Although the ministers were not formally invited – a fact that the majority celebrated – “Wado” is expected to attend the meeting. Will you tell Alberto to his face that he wants to be a candidate? “No one expects too much from the meeting,” they say in that trench.

Future. Fernández, as will be seen in the Peronist meeting, wants to support his candidacy in the governors and mayors. He is a double-edged sword: although they depend on the funds of the Nation to survive – and therefore have an almost necessary obedience to the Presidency – they also need the votes to stay in their positions. Tying yourself to the fate of Alberto is a risky bet, and the first to know it are the governors: in mid-January the President made an attempt to receive them at La Rosada, but given the low turnout that he was getting, he disarmed it.

On Tuesday the 7th, at night, he had dinner with the Peronist mayors of the Buenos Aires suburbs in Olivos. There, as in every political meeting that he has, the local leaders asked him what he plans to do in the elections. As always, Fernández was elusive, neither confirmed nor denied. But one thing is clear: he intends to fight. “I am the President, they are not going to pass me over,” he says, when the inmates saturate them.

In Kirchnerism there also seems to be a new consensus. If at the end of last year, prior to CFK’s decision to withdraw from the race, there was speculation about Plan K to retain Buenos Aires and leave the national elections to their own devices, that proved to be an illusion. Two ideas are growing in this tribe: the first -more formal, less conflictive- is to look for a unity candidate, an agreement between all sectors, something that would include Fernández’s okay.

That -the names on which both Alberto and Cristina can agree- is a very short list: Sergio Massa or Daniel Scioli. But if that does not prosper, Kirchnerism already has an idea in its head. Go with your own list, in which if you have to negotiate the places it is from a clear position of strength, and that has De Pedro at the head, and with that go to the PASO that Fernández wants so much. CFK is convinced that she can transfer her votes to someone else. Can he do it again?

It’s the economy. However, all the electoral luck of the Government is tied to the course of the economy. And in the trench of the minister some alarms are being set off. Inflation in January promises to be high again, which will practically rule out Massa’s plan to bring inflation to around three points per month by March or April. That was, they had been repeating from massismo, one of the conditions that the Tigrense put to sit down and talk about his candidacy. There was also another novelty in this space: from there they circulated the idea that the Tigrense had asked Alberto, at dinner before the mayors in Olivos, that he define his candidacy sooner rather than later. For Massa, who since the start of management has been characterized by taking care of forms to the extreme, this is a striking movement.

But you have to follow the Tigrense with a magnifying glass. Both for Albertismo -in the event that Fernández declines his ambitions- as well as for Kirchnerismo and for the rest of the Pan-Peronist space, Massa begins to be seen as the most drinkable candidate: he is someone in whom all aspects can come together, the axis of the Kirchnerismo-Casa Rosada fight and, furthermore, if the elections go wrong, he will be the one to show his face. For now, the minister continues to publicly deny any intention of running on the presidential ticket. But there is still a long way to go. No one expects the PJ table to immediately define a candidacy. In fact, it will most likely add more noise to the noise.

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