Argentina’s ailing president – what happens next?

Cristina Fernández is an aggressive politician with a fragile state of health, which makes for a lousy combination. Credibly diagnosed over the weekend with blood on her brain — a possibly but not necessarily serious condition — doctors have ordered the Argentine president to rest for a month. Just three weeks before mid-term elections, this surprise development has the potential to throw Argentina, its politics and even its creditor discussions wide open. For Ms Fernández it is also a medical misfortune that could, ironically, turn out to be a political gift.
Her government faces a crescendo of problems. Its long-running battle in a New York court with a group of holdout creditors could well end in a technical default.Currency controls are strangling the economy and deterring investment while inflation is running at a privately-estimated 25 per cent (not even ministers believe the official figures.) Corruption scandals are a regular occurrence. Meanwhile, Ms Fernández has also picked a series of fights with her neighbours, most recently Chile and Uruguay, losing Argentina its few remaining international friends. As a result, her ruling coalition is expected to lose big in the mid-term elections on October 27.
Yet although Argentina faces many serious challenges, none of them are insuperable. The problem is that Ms Fernández, who alongside her recently deceased husband has ruled Argentina for a decade, is too proud or stubborn to admit error and change her ways. Now, having been ordered by her doctors to stay off politics for a month, she may not have to. Someone else can execute the U-turns for her.
That person is the vice-president, Amado Boudou, who under the constitution is supposed to step into her shoes. (He already did once before in late 2011, after she was operated on for thyroid cancer.) Although an unpopular politician, currently facing corruption charges, Mr Boudou is also a former economy minister with a reputation for pragmatism who at least understands what inflation means and what debt negotiations require.
Indeed, according to one theory doing the rounds in Buenos Aires, Ms Fernández might even go so far as to take the opportunity of her time out from politics to stay out for good. Retiring for health reasons offers her a graceful exit from an increasingly difficult situation. She hates losing, as will happen on October 27. It is time for someone else, at least vaguely competent, to pick up the country’s economic reins. On a more personal note, she has also said that her children worry about losing their mother so soon after their father’s death. Backing out of politics because the doctors say she should, would allow her to assume the aura of a martyr, sanctified by her widowhood, her enduring faith in the “project” and her desire to spend more time with her grandchildren.
It is a credible escape hatch, and perhaps a plausible scenario — although also one that may only be wishful thinking by her many critics. After all, the last time Mr Boudou assumed the presidency Ms Fernández gave him this public advice: “Take care what you do. Be serious, it’s not a joke”. After that ringing endorsement, she then continued to issue orders from her hospital bed.
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  1. ReportRABLondon | October 7 8:51am | Permalink
    One does not wish Ms Fernandez any harm but frankly Argentina would be better off without her.
  2. ReportLandphil | October 7 9:49am | Permalink
    Surprisingly, she's going to spend a quiet month in Port Stanley.
  3. Reportwake up call | October 7 10:17am | Permalink
    "For Ms Fernández it is also a medical misfortune that could, ironically, turn out to be a political gift." This is just shameful for the FT ... playing with somebody's health shows a lack of taste and decendy which is really shocking!!
  4. ReportDavid Lloyd Owen | October 7 10:39am | Permalink
    The answer to the Falkland's 'problem' is simple.

    [1] Argentina gives the Falklanders enough money to leave
    [2] They move en masse to the Falklands as its newly self-declared 'natives'
    [3] They hand Argentina back to its real natives

    Everybody is happy.

    What could be simpler than that?
  5. ReportVendola | October 7 11:12am | Permalink
    What happens next? Argentina will elect another moron! You can count on it! Yes they can!
  6. ReportThinkofitthisway | October 7 11:17am | Permalink
    It is not only Mrs Fernandez' health which was fragile. Her moral compass was too. This made it possible for Boudou to take great advantage of the many opportunities he has had to benefit from murky deals while in government. However he will not have staying power. What is currently unfolding is probably good for the country. Some decent people may emerge.
  7. ReportMM_4765075 | October 7 11:30am | Permalink
    Oh Argentina....someone else's health issues are never good news. Buf honestly the Kirchner gang were never good for Argentina...However the precedent has been set up long time ago. It can be summed up to this: You own the power and enjoy it all, untill you die or ar kicked out.

    Hopefuly the stability for the arch enemy Chile will make the Argentinians think that now is time for a serious and real change. But I doubt this will happen. Resentment built on scapegoats like the yankee capitalism and the Falklands seem to be easier justification for all the Argentinian malaise.

    So the question lingers: how much more Argentina will have to suffer?
  8. ReportAllah | October 7 11:40am | Permalink
    Another Evita !?..... in fact, every country deserves what it has !
  9. Reportgkmuc | October 7 1:23pm | Permalink
    I could agree with much of the article. The only issue is the vice president. Boudou is one of the most disliked public figures in Argentina without any power base. He may be acting President, but given Argentina's chronically weak institutions, he is not really in a position to decree major policy initiatives and his best course would definitely be to tread lightly.... Kirchnerismo without a Kirchner is bound to collapse politically, the corruption trial Boudou is facing may well speed up if judges perceive they can act according to the law.

    The economy is already strangled enough, the goverment cannot really do any more harm.