Cristina Fernandez surprises Argentina by running for vice president

The surprise presidential candidate is also facing the start of a trial next week on charges of corruption, which have cast a shadow over her political ambitions.

Former Argentina President Cristina Fernandez. Picture: AFP

BUENOS AIRES - Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said Saturday she will run as vice president in elections later this year, a surprise move by the firebrand former leader who had been widely expected to be the main challenger to President Mauricio Macri.

Former cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez, a longtime operative, will take top spot on the ticket as the presidential candidate. Cristina Fernandez, a divisive figure in South America’s No. 2 economy, announced the move in a video posted on social media.

The announcement shakes up an election race many thought would be a choice between Macri’s painful market reforms and the fiery populism of Cristina Fernandez, who supported high social subsidies when she ran the country between 2007 and 2015.

“It’s not a move anyone thought would happen,” said Carlos Fara, a Buenos Aires-based political consultant, noting that Cristina Fernandez would be very influential if her running mate won the 27 October election.

“Nobody will imagine they are voting for Alberto without thinking that it’s a vote for Cristina. In the eyes of the public, it will be Alberto governing, but Cristina in power.”

The move nonetheless propels Alberto Fernandez, not previously on the radar as a presidential hopeful, into an election race expected to be tightly fought between Macri and rivals lining up from among the broad Peronist opposition.

Macri is increasingly under fire amid a biting recession and inflation that has hurt the market-friendly leader in the polls.

“The situation of the people and the country is dramatic, and I’m convinced this arrangement we’re proposing best reflects what is needed in Argentina at this time,” Cristina Fernandez said in a nearly 13-minute video on her official Twitter account.

“I have asked Alberto Fernandez to lead a team that includes both of us, him as the presidential candidate and me as candidate for the vice position,” she added.

The surprise presidential candidate said on Saturday he wanted to “restore dignity to millions of Argentines that this government has plunged into marginality and poverty.”

While Cristina Fernandez has a strong core following, many voters are wary of her record of currency controls and tax increases on farm exports when she was president.

She is also facing the start of a trial next week on charges of corruption, which have cast a shadow over her political ambitions. She denies the allegations and as a sitting senator has immunity from arrest.

Reuters reported in March the former leader was trying to build support in talks with moderate Peronists but was struggling to gain traction, threatening her ability to beat Macri head-to-head. Alberto Fernandez had been involved in those discussions on her behalf.

Alberto Fernandez was the centrist former chief of staff of President Nestor Kirchner, Cristina Fernandez’s late husband, and he could make inroads with the moderate wing of the party.

The Fernandez running mates are not related despite sharing a surname.