BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Alberto Fernandez is all but set to be crowned as Argentina’s new president on Sunday, barring a major upset, after emerging from relative obscurity with a bid for the top office in May.
Argentines from all walks of life, along with foreign investors and creditors, are watching closely for signs of how he will lead Latin America’s third-largest economy.
Recent quotes from the Peronist challenger to conservative President Mauricio Macri shed some light on his thinking about the issues, including looming negotiations to restructure over $100 billion in sovereign debt, after a market crash drained reserves and pushed up borrowing costs.
Fernandez has given creditors cause for hope, even as he rails against the high levels of debt taken on under Macri, including last year’s $57 billion financing agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
“It will not be difficult to do something similar to what Uruguay did, I have talked to international investors,” he said during an event in the city of Cordoba last month, referring to the mild debt restructuring the neighboring country managed to carry out.
“We will do what we always did, which is to fulfill and honor debts, but do not ask us to do so at the cost of further deterioration of our people,” Fernandez said.
He has, though, denounced Macri and the IMF, while making unsubstantiated claims that the current president had used IMF money to prop up his campaign.
Much of Fernandez’s campaign has focused on the economy, and how badly it has done under Macri.
“The president is worried because I raise my index (finger) when speaking. But there are indexes that ruin people’s lives and condemn millions to poverty,” he tweeted after a debate this month, where he frequently wagged his finger at Macri.
For reviving growth, Fernandez’s focus has been on squarely on restarting domestic consumption.
“The Argentine economy is one that consumes 70% of what it produces,” he told reporters in September. “When you affect consumption, production falls, and when production falls, employment falls and when unemployment rises, it affects poverty.”
Argentina’s farm sector - the driver of exports - has voiced fears about Fernandez’s left-leaning running mate, former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who raised taxes and export limits on the sector. But Fernandez tried to salve those fears in August.
“Mistakes were made in the past that we will never make again,” he said during a trip to grains hub Rosario.
“It makes no sense to have oil if to get it out you have to let the multinationals come and take it,” Fernandez declared during a trip to Spain in September.
That sparked concern he might tighten up on foreign investment in the giant Vaca Muerta shale formation. But with energy exports growing, he walked back his statement a week later, at least in part.
“I am not against oil multinationals. What I am saying is that you end up going to them when you are not able to develop your own technology to extract oil,” he said at a business congress in the central province of Neuquén.
While there, he proposed giving investors in Vaca Muerta and other unconventional formations tax supports and leniency to hold dollars outside the country, despite recently imposed capital controls.
One of the main questions voters and investors have asked is how much influence will be held by Fernandez’s running mate, who rolled out various populist policies during her back-to-back administrations from 2007-2015.
“Cristina is a friend. We know our differences and we still appreciate and respect each other,” Fernandez said in an interview at the end of September, adding that he had been very critical of her while she was in power.
In an interview with local radio station La Red he also downplayed the role the former leader would have in choosing a Cabinet. “She will have zero input,” he said.
Speaking at a joint campaign appearance last week in the province of La Pampa, however, Fernandez said: “Cristina and I, we are the same.”
SOCIAL MEDIA-SAVVY DOG
On the day of the primary election in August, Fernandez was stopped by reporters walking his collie Dylan, who has an account on Instagram with 75,000 fans.
“I have to walk him always, he doesn’t know there are elections,” Fernandez said.
“Alberto is my best friend. Lately we see each other less because he is very busy. But when he comes back we spend many hours together to make up for it,” “Dylan” told his fans in one recent Instagram posting.
Fernandez also champions his son, Estanislao Fernandez, a design student who works in insurance and is one of Brazil’s better known drag queens.
“I have pride in my son, how can I not be proud?” Fernandez said in an interview in June. “My son is a rights activist in that community. I would worry if my son was a criminal, but he is a great man.”
Reporting by Marina Lammartyn; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Tom Brown