Argentina’s Peronists return as Fernandez sworn into power

Argentina's outgoing President Mauricio Macri (2nd L), his wife Juliana Awada, President-elect Alberto Fernandez and his partner Fabiola Yanez, attend a mass at Lujan, in Buenos Aires, Argentina December 8, 2019. Esteban Collazo/Frente de Todos/Handout via REUTERS

BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s new Peronist leader Alberto Fernandez will assume the presidency on Tuesday, a sharp gear shift from conservative Mauricio Macri as the Latin American country firefights rampant inflation, credit default fears and rising poverty.

The 60-year-old center-left politician will be sworn in by lawmakers in the historic Congress building at around 11 a.m. (1400 GMT) before taking an oath in front of his newly appointed ministers at the Casa Rosada presidential palace.

Fernandez’s arrival marks a return of Argentina’s powerful Peronist political flank, expected to usher in growth-focused policies after unpopular austerity under Macri, which could impact creditors and farmers in the giant grains exporter.

Supporters hope Fernandez can tackle annual inflation running above 50%, poverty approaching 40% amid recession, and tricky restructuring talks over around $100 billion in sovereign debt with lenders including the International Monetary Fund.

“I have hope that Fernandez will get us out of this disaster,” said Julio Carlos, 52, a merchant at a clothing store in Buenos Aires, who emigrated to Argentina from Peru two decades ago.

In a reflection of shifting political allies, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel will attend the ceremony, but Brazil’s right-wing leader, Jair Bolsonaro, who has clashed publicly with Fernandez, will not travel. It’s the first time since 2002 a Brazilian president has not attended the inauguration in Buenos Aires.

In the central Plaza de Mayo, adjacent to the pink-hued palace, crowds will gather in the southern hemisphere summer heat with planned live music to celebrate the new government and likely hear Fernandez speak in the early afternoon.

At front and center for hard-hit Argentines, investors and markets are Fernandez’s plans for Latin America’s no. 3 economy. He picked Martín Guzmán, a young disciple of the Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, to head the key ministry last week.

Many investors have been worried about Fernandez ushering in greater state intervention, as happened under his vice president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, during her back-to-back administrations between 2007 and 2015.

Alberto Fernandez, a political operator who burst into the limelight just this year, will need to balance varied demands of his broad Peronist coalition and pressure from Macri’s weakened, though still influential party.

With little financial firepower, Fernandez has worker unions demanding wage increases to make up for high inflation and charities calling for an increase in subsidies for the poor.

Political analyst Julio Burdman said this juggling act would be Fernandez’s biggest challenge. “He needs to do a rapid maneuver to get the economy started again, which will all depend on how he is able to handle the debt.”

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