Kirchner roils Argentina with surprise VP bid

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was expected by many to take a shot at running for president again. (Bloomberg pic)

BUENOS AIRES: Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will run as a vice-presidential candidate in upcoming elections, stunning many who believed she’d positioned herself to return to the top job.

Kirchner, 66, will run on the same ticket as Alberto Fernandez, a veteran politician and her late husband’s former cabinet chief, she said in a message broadcast Saturday on her official YouTube channel.

Kirchner blasted the billions of dollars in debt accrued over the last three years, particularly because a large share is owed to the International Monetary Fund.

The fund is widely blamed for Argentina’s crisis nearly two decades ago, on the back of which the Kirchner husband-and-wife team stormed to power.

“The overwhelming and unnecessary indebtedness of the country is starting to show the first symptoms of a reality that will be very hard to reverse,” Kirchner said in the video, arguing that Argentina is poorer now than in the depths of the 2001-02 crisis.

More voter appeal

Fernandez, 60, was also briefly cabinet chief for his new running mate. But he later distanced himself from Kirchner, criticising her leftist tenure and aligning with a moderate wing of Argentina’s influential Peronist movement.

Though Kirchner is the more potent political power, she chose Fernandez – and he agreed  – to top the ticket as a way to broaden their combined electoral appeal.

Popular thinking was that high disapproval ratings meant she’d struggle to pierce a ceiling of support, handing victory to incumbent Mauricio Macri, who’d sweep up the middle ground in a run-off vote.

But staying in the shadow of the less antagonistic Fernandez could help Kirchner to win over more Peronist politicians and, subsequently, more voters.

“This move shifts us away from the Cristina-Macri rupture that Macri’s team was banking on,” said Carlos Germano, an Argentine political analyst. “She retains her core support by being on the ticket, but also picks up more moderates. Peronism’s factions will start to align.”

Markets roiled

The mere possibility of populist Kirchner returning to power has roiled markets, as investors see Macri as a more cooperative figure to shore up South America’s second-largest economy and come good on debt repayments.

Kirchner is facing allegations of corruption, which she labels a smear campaign.

A trial, one of several ongoing cases essentially for embezzling public funds, starts next week – even as her position as a senator gives her certain protections.

But as Argentines’ patience wears thin with an economy set to shrink for a second straight year under Macri, she has retained political clout.

In April Kirchner published a bestselling book, “Sinceramente,” (“Sincerely”) which helped fuel speculation of a comeback. In the book she mentioned Macri no fewer than 170 times, referring to him as “chaos.”

She was president of Argentina from December 2007 to December 2015.