Argentine Cabinet chief rejects talk of rift with presidential candidate

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 30, 2015 11:08 AM

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - A loyal ally of Argentina's outgoing president, Cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez, on Friday dismissed talk of a rift with the ruling party's presidential candidate after Sunday's weak election result.

The ruling Front for Victory party has been slow to rally around Daniel Scioli after the surprisingly strong performance of conservative rival Mauricio Macri forced a run-off vote next month, in which Macri is being touted by some observers as the slim favorite.

In one of the biggest shocks of Sunday night, Fernandez lost the governorship race for Buenos Aires province, a post Scioli currently holds in a region that has traditionally been a stronghold of the Peronist movement represented by the Front for Victory party.

"I haven't stopped talking to Scioli," Fernandez told reporters in his daily news briefing. "And I'm not going to stop collaborating with my candidate's presidential campaign."

Simmering tensions between allies of President Cristina Fernandez and Scioli's inner circle over the direction of Scioli's campaign surfaced mid-week.

Relations between the fiery president -- who is not related to her Cabinet chief -- and Scioli, a former businessman and speedboat champion who favors more mainstream macroeconomic policies, have been strained by policy and personality differences for years.

Scioli was viewed inside the presidency as the leftist ruling party's best shot at snaring enough middle-ground voters to win the election. President Fernandez swung behind her candidacy when he took on one of her close confidants as running mate.

On Thursday, the president spoke publicly for the first time since the ballot. She urged Argentines to vote for the continuity of her populist policies, implicitly backing Scioli though she did not once mention him by name.

"Fernandez's speech will have restored some calm, for now," said Juan Cruz Diaz, head of the Cefeidas political consultancy.

Scioli fought a guarded first-round campaign, promising continuity of her generous social welfare programs, talking only of "gradual changes" to win new investment. He vows now "to be more Scioli."

On Thursday, Scioli said in the western Tucuman province that he would raise pensions and peg them to 82 percent of a worker's last salary, toughen the fight against nacro-gangs and cut export duties on some goods to South American countries, local media reported.

The pledges appeared a move to woo voters of dissident Peronist Sergio Massa, who placed third in Sunday's vote and unveiled a list of key policy demands earlier this week.

(Reporting by Richard Lough Editing by W Simon)