Argentina’s centre-left President Alberto Fernandez is battling a spreading cabinet rebellion, sharpened by criticism from his powerful Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
The crisis comes in the wake of a bruising primary election loss by a spate of resignations tendered by left-wing ministers allied with the more hardline “Kirchnerist” wing of the ruling party.
Fernandez has yet to officially accept or reject the resignations from the ministers amid speculation about the potential breakup of his coalition and told local newspaper Pagina 12 that his hand would not be forced.
The government was badly beaten on Sunday in an open primary election, seen as a reliable indicator before a mid-term congressional vote in November in which the Peronist ruling party could lose its grip on Congress.
Fernandez now faces a stark choice of doubling down on populist measures or taking a more moderate approach to attract middle-class voters who rallied behind the conservative opposition.
“The governing coalition must listen to the message of the polls and act responsibly,” Fernandez wrote on Twitter, saying he would guarantee the unity of the party and that the government would continue to act in a way he “deemed appropriate”.
In an acerbic letter published on Thursday night, Kirchner, who served as president from 2007-2015, accused the president of pursuing “mistaken” fiscal policies that exacerbated Argentina’s economic crisis already made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kirchner wrote that she had met with President Fernandez to suggest a candidate to take over as cabinet chief as part of a government “relaunch”, though denied reports she had sought the resignation of Economy Minister Martin Guzman.
She also criticised government inaction since the defeat.
“The day after such a political catastrophe if you listened to some officials, you would think that nothing had happened, they were feigning normality and, above all, screwing around in their armchairs.”
President Fernandez was due to travel to Mexico for a left-wing regional summit this week but has suspended his trip to put the finishing touches on fresh economic measures which will be announced in the coming days, a government spokesman said.
Fernandez took power from the incumbent Mauricio Macri in 2019.
Public discontent with his government has been growing in a country in recession since 2018 and a gross domestic product (GDP) drop of 9.9 percent last year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Argentina has one of the world’s highest inflation rates, at 29 percent from January to July this year, and a poverty rate of 42 percent.
In downtown Buenos Aires on Thursday there were largely peaceful street protests for and against the government.
Ramiro Marra, the director of Bull Market Group in Buenos Aires, told the Reuters news agency that the political infighting heightened “political, economic and social uncertainty”.
“It increases country risk, makes dollars more expensive and scares away investment,” he said.