Cristina May Leave, but Kirchnerism Won’t Die

For the first time since 1995, Cristina Kirchner won't hold a public office in 2016. (Federico Manino)
For the first time since 1995, Cristina Kirchner won’t hold a public office in 2016. (Federico Manino)

After eight years in office, Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner may be packing up her things, but giving up power is not in her plans.

While her exit from the presidency on December 10 is unavoidable, Kirchner intends to retain control over key areas of the next administration by appointing hundreds of supporters to choice positions. Likewise, the president aims to keep judges from investigating the many corruption cases that she and her officials are involved in.

The coming year will mark the first time since 1995 that Cristina Kirchner does not hold public office. Her primary concern, however, is losing both the legal and de facto immunity from prosecution that she has enjoyed over the years.

In an effort to leave friendly people in high places, she recently appointed two comptrollers at the General Auditor’s Office, new Central Bank directors, and dozens of judges, prosecutors, and other judiciary employees.

Top officials like Attorney General Alejandra Gils Carbó and media czar Martín Sabbatella have already vowed to remain in office way past the Kirchner administration’s expiration date.

No matter who wins the presidency on November 22, be it conservative candidate Mauricio Macri or the ruling party’s Daniel Scioli, Kirchner has begun setting herself up for her role as “opposition leader,” commanding a strong congressional bloc.

While Scioli was Kirchner’s chosen successor, the president has since abandoned her candidate and launched her own media campaign to remain politically relevant after the election.

During the first round of the election, Martín Sabbatella campaigned as Aníbal Fernandez’s running mate for governor of Buenos Aires. Fernandez lost the race to María Eugenia Vidal, an underdog from the Let’s Change opposition coalition. Martín’s brother, Hernán Sabbatella, similarly lost his reelection bid in his home town of Morón to Vidal’s husband Ramiro Tagliaferro.

As director of the Federal Authority for Audiovisual Communication Services (AFSCA), Martín Sabbatella is tasked with enforcing the controversial media law passed in 2009. After the Supreme Court upheld portions of the law as constitutional in 2013, Sabbatella unsuccessfully attempted to break up the media conglomerate Grupo Clarín, an old Kirchner friend turned enemy in 2008.

Sabbatella has not only promised to remain in office until December 10, 2017, when his term expires, but has also guaranteed his party, Nuevo Encuentro (New Encounter), a steady source of income. Recently, he’s put hundreds of fellow party members on the state’s payroll.

“Of course, when a political movement arrives [to public office], it comes along with a structure of trusted companions,” he told Clarín journalist Nicolás Wiñazki.

Gils Carbó has shown a similar streak in the past. As attorney general, she has punished prosecutors for looking into corruption allegations involving the Cristina and Néstor Kirchner administrations, and has shielded the executive by appointing government-friendly prosecutors.

“I will only step down once I have completed a full term and there can be a positive change in leadership [in the Attorney General’s Office],” she told local daily Página/12.

Laura Alonso, a lawmaker with the Republican Proposal party (PRO) founded by Macri, said that Congress could potentially impeach Gils Carbó. That possibility is slim, however, since the PRO party lack the votes necessary in the Senate.

Nevertheless, the attorney general is simply a pawn in Kirchner’s game, as she works hard to prevent the government from investigating her family, relatives, and friends.

In June, Kirchner appointed 40 new employees to the judiciary, including judges and prosecutors. Most of them were former government officials, pro-government activist lawyers from Justicia Legitima, and relatives of current officials.

On October 29, four days after the first round of election revealed that the ruling party could lose the presidency, Kirchner nominated two new candidates to the Supreme Court. It was either an act of desperation or provocation, since the president must have known that the opposition would block any attempt to name new justices only 40 days before a new Congress is formed.

Then, on Monday, November 9, President Kirchner extended the congressional calendar until December 9, one day before she leaves office. According to local media, she aims to appoint another 15 cronies to the judiciary and promote several ambassadors and army officers at the last minute.

But it doesn’t end there.

Kirchner has also created new government offices to gift jobs to her loyalists who would otherwise become unemployed with the incoming administration. On November 4, she introduced the “Regime to Promote the Youth” initiative, which created six new posts related to youth policy, including a National Institute for Youth and Federal Council for Youth.

Comptroller Generals

This wasn’t the only scandal to emerge during this very same congressional session either.

Julián Álvarez is a member of La Cámpora, a pro-Kirchner youth group which functions as an applicant well for government positions. He lost in the mayoral election in the suburban district of Lanús, so President Kirchner decided to appoint both him and Juan Forlón, head of the state-run Nation’s Bank, to the Auditor General’s Office.

The opposition claimed their appointments were illegal, and that ruling-party congressmen breached parliamentary bylaws by not introducing the item in the agenda. They argued that the new Congress should have appointed the comptrollers, since they will in charge of investigating the current administration.

No matter who wins the election this November, Kirchner will lead the next government’s opposition. Her only worry now is the extent to which independent judges and prosecutors are able to look into her suspicious increase in wealth over the last decade.

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