Reluctant to leave power after eight years as president, and a previous four as first lady, Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner is now the protagonist of the country’s latest political telenovela.
The ceremony in which the new head of state receives the presidential sash and staff from his predecessor — an act with no legal validity according to the Constitution — has become the focus of debate at the highest political level. For many, Kirchner has caused the ruckus due to her need for constant attention.
On November 22, 2015, just two days after the presidential runoff, President Kirchner invited President-elect Mauricio Macri to the presidential mansion. He intended to discuss the minutiae of the transition and plan meetings between the outgoing and incoming ministers. But she had other plans in mind, namely to make this the most dramatic presidential transition in Argentinean history.
“Let me repeat this: today we are not going to talk about the transition, but about the inauguration ceremony,” Kirchner allegedly told Macri according to reports by local daily Clarín. After leaving the presidential residence, the president-elect told the press that the meeting “was not worth it.”
Kirchner didn’t allow photographs to be taken during the meeting. She merely told Macri that she was going to designate someone to handle the legal paperwork on December 9, one day before his possession. “Do not insist. I’m the president until December 10, and from then on you rule,” she is supposed to have said.
In the following weeks, things turned out slightly different than what Kirchner had imagined. Many ministers, ignoring the president’s orders for the first time in years, began to meet with their successors. This was unthinkable just a few months ago, when Kirchner guided her troop with an iron fist as she had done for eight years. And things only became worse.
The outgoing president is holding on to power until the last minute, which allows her to position herself as leader of her party, the tumultuous Justicialist Party, and of the opposition.
During her last week as president, Kirchner expected to oversee the launch of a rocket “made in Argentina,” which was to be used to place satellites in orbit. Although she pressured the scientists working on the project to meet the deadline she set, they said it was impossible.
Kirchner also organized two farewell demonstrations. The first took place on the afternoon of December 9. The other will be held the next day, when Macri officially takes office.
But her main bet to remain under the spotlight during her last week in office was to turn a simple, symbolic ceremony into a national controversy.
On December 10, Macri will swear the presidential oath before the president of the Senate and a full Congress, as Article 93 of the Constitution requires. So far, both Macri and Kirchner have agreed on this, and there is little room for debate.
Kirchner, however, also said that she wishes to attend the ceremony, although she has no formal role at the event.
Presumably, she expects the opportunity to address the chamber, including the supporters she invited to the galleries. The new government told her she could watch the event quietly while seated next to other former presidents of Argentina.
Kirchner, however, has repeatedly blamed her predecessors — except for her husband, Néstor Kirchner— for her country’s “past” ills. Sitting next to ex-presidents was not her preferred choice.
But the bone of contention are the presidential symbols: a cloth sash and the staff of command, both inspired from the European monarchical tradition, which the new president receives as he assumes office.
President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento inaugurated the tradition in 1868, and each outgoing president has handed over a new set of presidential objects. The ceremony has been held mostly at the Casa Rosada‘s White Room.
This time around, Kirchner suggested that the ceremony should take place in Congress, as was the case when she took office in 2007 and 2011, when she received the presidential symbols from her daughter in a true revival of monarchical form.
Macri, on the other hand, said that he would like to continue with the original tradition, telling Kirchner that the ceremony should take place at Casa Rosada. Kirchner, however, refused the request. Her administration affirmed that the handover would take place in Congress. Macri’s press office, meanwhile, publicized a detailed schedule placing the “crucial” event at Casa Rosada.
In the meantime, official goldsmith Juan Carlos Pallarols alleged that he had received threats from Kirchner’s staff, which demanded that he hand over the presidential symbols to them, or, if he refused, to the police. Later, the government rectified and apologized.
During the weekend, Kirchner published a letter about the ceremony on her personal website and tweeted 78 times in a row about the matter. She accused Macri of “yelling at her” on the telephone and demanding that the ceremony take place at the presidential mansion, the traditional location. “My love stops here,” Kirchner wrote, who boasted of arranging yellow flowers at the Casa Rosada — “the president-elect’s favorite color.”
When Will Her Term End?
In the middle of this nonsensical, whimsical controversy, the President’s Office requested that the Notary General issue an opinion concerning the official end of Kirchner’s mandate. This new subplot emerged after the Casa Rosada‘s official Twitter account wrote that Kirchner’s tenure as president would finish on the last second of Thursday, December 10. This implied that she had the right to organize the ceremony.
The Nation’s Notary General — responding to a request by the President’s Office — endorsed this position, but said that it would be “normal for the ceremony to take place at the presidential mansion” and that “the president-elect should be the one to choose the venue.”
For his part, Macri asked a court to decide on the issue. Prosecutor Jorge Di Lello, in a preliminary ruling, stated that Kirchner’s term ends on Wednesday, December 9, at 11:59:59 p.m.
“If she continues serving as president after that time, she would become a de facto president,” constitutional lawyer Gregorio Badeni said in a TV interview.
But the telenovela finally ended on Tuesday, December 8. After failed negotiations, Federal Intelligence Director Oscar Parrilli said that “under these conditions, the president will not be at Congress.” He then compared the situation with a “coup d’état.”
Finally, Senate President Federico Pinedo will replace Kirchner in the ceremony. For the first time, a constitutionally elected president, whose term ends as scheduled, won’t be taking part in this traditional ceremony.
In the end, the best thing for the country would be to put an end to this monarchical ritual, an unnecessary demonstration of megalomania and authority.