It is arguable that VP Cristina Fernandez (CFK)’s quest to deactivate the various legal processes against her is the most purposefully executed government policy. In part, this reflects the clarity of CFK’s objective: to achieve impunity. Events this week suggest that the path will not always be smooth, though this in turn reinforces the long-term dimension of CFK’s game plan: to fight her legal battles by any means necessary, and to maintain political power via proxies to secure permanent impunity for herself and her children. At the same time, however, this dynamic is politically corrosive for CFK, as President Alberto Fernandez’s declining poll ratings affirm. The tension between CFK’s legal quest and Kirchnerismo’s electability will remain a key dynamic in the run-up to the 2021 mid-terms.
On 29 September, the Supreme Court in a unanimous vote agreed to consider an appeal against the transfer of three judges from a federal court that is hearing corruption cases involving CFK. The Court’s decision, which also temporarily blocks any move to appoint replacement judges, was a surprise and a setback for CFK. Vice-Minister for Justice Juan Martin Mena, a CFK loyalist who also happens to be a co-defendant alongside the VP in the Iran Memorandum case (the alleged cover-up of Iranian involvement in the 1994 terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish community center), was duly deployed to criticize “biddable” judges and “media groups” that supposedly exerted pressure on the Court.
However, the Supreme Court has not yet issued a definitive judgement; this could come in the next fortnight. Even if the Court rules that the three judges in question should stay, CFK will not stop her campaign; it would probably just make it more vituperative. The government has already implemented a battery of measures affecting the judiciary. These include removing state bodies as plaintiffs in cases against her; placing key allies in influential posts in the judicial architecture; pushing for the removal of interim Attorney-General Eduardo Casal; and pursuing a judicial reform (currently stalled) that seeks to expand the Supreme Court (precisely to avoid setbacks such as the one CFK experienced this week) and cut powerful investigative judges down to size.
Fernandez is paying the cost of his VP’s maneuvers. Credible pollsters show a marked increase in Fernandez’s disapproval rating over recent weeks, which confirms that the poll surge that the president enjoyed early in the lockdown period is well and truly over. There is also evidence that a rising number of people who voted for the Fernandez-CFK ticket in 2019 now say they would vote differently in next year’s mid-terms. To be sure, the ongoing Covid-19 crisis (yesterday saw a new record of daily cases as the virus spreads beyond the initial epicenter in and around Buenos Aires) and accompanying economic crisis partly explain Fernandez’s ratings drop, but so too does the president’s “cristinizacion”, that is, his inability and/or unwillingness to stand up to CFK. The whole point of CFK’s hook-up with Fernandez was to broaden her electoral appeal; if Fernandez is no longer seen as more moderate, his usefulness to Kirchnerismo is limited, unless it is to be the fall guy for the deep economic crisis.