BUENOS AIRES – President Cristina Fernandez is being coy about whether she wants to stay in power after her constitutional term ends.
The possibility of "Cristina Forever" was mentioned a few weeks ago by several mayors, governors and lawmakers who want to run again but can't because of term limits imposed by local constitutions. Fernandez herself won the second of two four-year terms with 54 percent of the vote last October, and cannot run for a third consecutive term unless the national constitution is changed.
The president's critics and even a few of her supporters oppose changing the constitution to allow Fernandez to run again in 2015. "No one is irreplaceable," said conservative Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, who is among the fiercest critics of Fernandez. He warned against the dangers of "getting embroiled in things of the ego, meanness and individualism."
But Fernandez, and members of her inner circle, have not taken a public position.
Some political analysts believe that Fernandez needs to have the possibility of a third term floating in the public's consciousness to maintain power.
"This is a political strategy by the president to survive politically," said journalist and political analyst Ignacio Fidanza, who runs the political website lapoliticalonline.com. "The subject of a possible third term for Fernandez arises because she needs it as a defense: she needs the threat of her permanence in power to maintain discipline among the Peronists."
Fernandez has headed the left wing of the Peronist party since the death of her husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner, who was president from 2003-2007. She currently does not have a clear successor who could replace her in three years.
If the possibility of a third presidential term isn't floated now, Fernandez will lose influence in the 2013 congressional elections and the Peronist movement "will search for new leaders and she will be isolated," Fidanza said.
"The worst thing for Argentina would be to have a powerless president," said Fidanza. "The Peronists are very harsh in their power struggles, and when a leader loses power, they rebel; Cristina knows this very well."
Among the Peronist leaders with better prospects is the governor of Buenos Aires province, Daniel Scioli. But he has quietly voiced some disagreements with the president's supporters.
"Except Fernandez, there is no figure that could guarantee the continuity of the Kirchners' project," said Ricardo Rouvier, from the political consulting firm Ricardo Rouvier y Asociados.
Fernandez has not made her intentions clear. A few months ago she said she was "tired" of the duties that come with her office.
At a public event on Thursday, she told the audience: "Do not worry, I will be wherever I need to be, and I will continue to do what I have always done, which is to participate and work."
To run for the presidency again, Fernandez will need a much larger majority in Congress than the one she has now in order to change the constitution.
Opposition leaders, who have so far failed to produce a viable rival to Fernandez, have launched a campaign to collect signatures against any attempts at constitutional reform that would allow her to remain in power.
The opposition is also trying to take advantage of the president's recent slide in the polls because of unpopular moves such as the imposition of strict exchange controls, and to problems such as crime and inflation.
The possibility of a third term for Fernandez is especially unpopular among the middle class, which has been critical of the president, and the prospect of her staying in power was among the main complaints of a recent "cacerolazo," a protest in which citizens bang pots and pans from balconies and windows. Protesters waved signs reading: "No to reform of the constitution." Some chanted: The dictatorship of the K is going to end!"
The 2013 congressional elections will be key for any attempt by the ruling Peronist party to reform the constitution. A majority of two-thirds in each of house of congress will be needed to change the document.
Analysts say Fernandez would need to get the same kind of extraordinary results her party obtained in the 2011 elections to obtain the 172 votes that would be needed for constitutional reform.
The ruling party now has 116 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 38 seats are at stake in the upcoming elections, though there are other pro-government lawmakers.