December 7, 2007 / 7:15 PM / 11 years ago

Argentina's Kirchner to become "first gentleman"

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner steps down as president next week but he won’t be giving up the presidential residence — or his political influence.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Nestor Kirchner smile at each other as Cristina makes her first appearance at Casa Rosada presidential palace in Buenos Aires, October 30, 2007. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

Kirchner swaps jobs with his wife, first lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, when she takes office on Monday as Argentina’s first elected female leader, leaving him in the new role of “first gentleman.”

The rare democratic handover between spouses has established the couple as Argentina’s most powerful political dynasty since Juan and Eva “Evita” Peron, and drawn comparisons to former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his wife, presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton.

But it has also fanned questions among Argentines about what Kirchner — who leaves office amid a historic economic boom — will do following the role reversal.

“It’s hard to believe he won’t be involved in some way with the government,” said political analyst Ricardo Rouvier.

Kirchner was a little-known governor from a remote Patagonian province when he won office in 2003, two years after a deep economic crisis sparked deadly street riots and saw the country go through five leaders in two weeks.

He steps down from office after four-and-a-half years as a popular leader, credited by many Argentines for steering the country’s remarkable recovery.

He could have run for reelection and would almost certainly have won but stepped aside for his wife, who then campaigned on promises she would continue his main economic policies.

POLITICAL BACKGROUND

The Kirchners have cast their back-to-back presidencies as part of a joint political project. A high-profile senator, Fernandez was a key Kirchner advisor, and many of his aides are staying on with her.

Yet they have been coy about Kirchner’s post-presidential plans. Few expect him to step quietly into the political background.

Kirchner recently joked he planned to “take off for a literary cafe.” He has also said he plans on working to build grassroots social movements, a suggestion that many here took as a sign he intends to remain politically active.

In a rare television interview this week, Kirchner said he wants to head up a foundation named after a Patagonian town where he and Fernandez have a home.

The group’s focus is unclear, but press reports say its offices are located only blocks from the presidential palace.

Kirchner could also seek to become the leader of the ruling Peronist party, partly to help keep his wife’s political support intact.

Some political commentators believe the Kirchners have a long-term plan to rotate in and out of the presidency, but he has dismissed suggestions he will pull the levers of power in his wife’s presidency.

“It would be a bad idea to interfere,” he said. “She’ll be the one who governs and decides.”

Additional reporting by Lucas Bergman; Editing by Kieran Murray

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