Moderate Peronist Fernandez closes in on Argentine presidency

Buenos Aires, Oct 26 (AFP/APP): Alberto Fernandez has been a discreet backroom operator throughout a long career in Argentine politics, but all that could change after Sunday’s elections.

Little known outside Buenos Aires politics, the 60-year-old law professor and Bob Dylan fan burst onto the international stage by trouncing President Mauricio Macri in August primaries that were seen as a dress rehearsal for the presidential election.

Opinion polls suggest a repeat performance on Sunday.

Fernandez’s biggest job in politics to date came when he was chief of staff in Nestor Kirchner’s administration, and later in that of his wife, Cristina Kirchner.

He left abrubtly in the first year of Cristina’s presidency, shortly after she tried to introduce an export tax on grain producers that ignited a wave of strikes and farmer protests in 2008.

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The split, after which he became one of her fiercest critics, is offered as evidence by Fernandez’s friends and supporters that he will be his own man in the presidency and not a puppet of Cristina.

“Fernandez stopped Cristina Kirchner in 2008 and broke with her. She couldn’t control him then, much less so now,” from her office in the vice-presidency if they win Sunday, said political analyst Raul Aragon.

– ‘Liberal, progressive, Peronist’ –

Lawmaker Daniel Filmus, education minister in Nestor Kirchner’s 2003-07 government, sees Fernandez as a highly intelligent operator “with whom you can discuss and exchange on a great many subjects.”

A man “who under differing circumstances proved that he could work in tandem with people of various profiles on medium- and long-term policies.”

Critics see him as a political chameleon, frequenting both the ultra-liberal edges of Peronism and the milieu of left-wing populists like Kirchner.

Fernandez sees himself as a “leftist liberal, a progressive liberal.”

“I believe in individual freedoms and I believe that the state must be present when the markets demand it,” he said in an interview. “I am a Peronist. I am growing the branches of progressive Peronist liberalism.”

After his crushing defeat of Macri, Fernandez took time out to visit several leftist Latin American leaders, including Brazil’s former leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in prison, Uruguay’s ex-president Jose “Pepe” Mujica and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

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