The intern in Peronism broke out. The Frente de Todos (FdT), a coalition of parties that led Alberto Fernández to the presidency and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to the vice-presidency in 2019, could not avoid the cross of reproaches for the poor result in Sunday’s primaries.
Keys to understanding the electoral defeat of Peronism in Argentina
The walls that supported the Argentine government cracked after a group of ministers and officials who answer to Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner presented their resignation to the president.
“The administration of the government will continue to develop in the way that I deem appropriate. For that I was elected. I will do so by always calling for a meeting between Argentines,” were the first, and so far only, words from Alberto Fernández related to the issue.
After 22 on Friday, through a written statement, the Argentine government announced the expected change in the cabinet: six new ministers and a secretary were finally confirmed a few minutes after the president left the Casa Rosada.
What is Peronism?
Peronism of the left, of the right, in the neighborhoods or in the palace. “We are all Peronists,” they say Juan Domingo Perón said when asked about the composition of the Argentine vote. Peronism is a political movement that has marked Argentine politics during the last half century. The opposition, on many occasions, has ended up defining itself as an antagonistic opposite to this movement: the “anti-Peronists” who represent at least a quarter of the total Argentine population. For the Peronists, the anti-Peronists can also be from the left or from the right, they are those people who would never elect a Peronist candidate whatever the current.
Few political movements are as difficult to define as Peronism. Gone is the moment of his birth, on October 17, 1945, when a massive demonstration of workers demanded the release of Perón and allowed him to be elected president of Argentina the following year. The Justicialista Party (PJ), founded in 1946, is its main political hallmark. The current president, Alberto Fernández, is a member and president of the PJ.
Among its pillars, in addition to being a party of popular extraction, are the so-called “three flags of Peronism”: economic independence, political sovereignty and social justice. What each of the Peronist presidents, from Carlos Menem to Alberto Fernández through Eduardo Duhalde and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, have done with the interpretation of those principles is something else.
Is it the same as Kirchnerism?
Kirchnerism responds to the years of Government of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015). Kirchnerism ended up founding a “progressive Peronism” or “left Peronism”, which met the historical social demands of human rights organizations and added new progressive sectors that did not identify with the Justicialist Party.
Peronism, even Kichnerism, never sought to differentiate itself from capitalism, nor did it seek any type of socialist government, except in the years of armed struggle during the 1970s. But from the democratic recovery to these days, Peronism is for the Peronists a “capitalism with social justice.”
What is the government coalition?
The defeat of Kirchnerism in 2015, which enabled a Government of Together for Change and brought Mauricio Macri to the presidency, required former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to sit down and talk with her fiercest Peronist adversaries.
The wide and diverse Peronist fan with which he had to articulate included the former chief of staff of Néstor Kirchner and current president, Alberto Fernández, as well as the former candidate for president, Sergio Massa. All of them very critical of Cristina Fernández. But during the years of the Macri government, they chose to put differences aside and put an end to the Government of Together for Change. “With Cristina it is not enough, without Cristina it cannot be done,” the current president even said before the 2019 elections. There was no other option, they had to sit down and talk.
That year, the Peronists were united not by love but by horror. In this way, the different Peronist leaders from different political lines created the so-called Frente de Todos (Fdt), a nuclear political seal to the different Peronist leaders and their political spaces but which also integrates a number of smaller, non-Peronist parties, but close to his ideas.
The composition of this front is what served to contest the 2019 election, in which they won with 48% of the votes against Mauricio Macri. Thus, in December 2019, a totally new political experiment began for Peronism that was based on trying to govern in a coalition.
What happened now?
Last Sunday, Argentina had the primary, open, simultaneous and mandatory elections (PASO). In that instance, the political parties defined their candidates for the mid-term legislative elections on November 14. Or at least that is what the papers say, because within the FdT, with few exceptions, there were no internal disputes but rather the front presented unit lists, assuming that it could thus avoid tensions. But the emergence of differences was inevitable. Sunday’s dismal result for the FdT unleashed an unprecedented internal political crisis.
Tensions began the day after the results were known. The Kirhner wing waited for an announcement of changes in the government by the president, which did not come. Cristina Fernández defined the absence of definitions as a lack of reaction. In just as the Minister of the Interior, Eduardo De Pedro, leader of La Cámpora and strong man of the vice president, arrives to present his public resignation.
The announcement continued with a thread of resignations from front-line officials, all close to the vice president, who reacted like wildfire to the sparks left by the terrible numbers last weekend. The inner circle of the president could not read it other than as a mechanism of pressure on the part of Kirchnerism to change names in the cabinet.
What is “the rough vote”?
Society is disenchanted. The annoyance was not felt in the streets but at the polls. The message was strong. What they see in the Government, they do not like. Sunday’s results were read as a “rough vote”, that is, as a protest vote against the government and anger with politics in general.
We see it in the decrease in electoral participation, with a 67% turnout at the polls, the lowest since the 1983 elections since Argentina recovered its democracy. This was accompanied by good and unexpected results achieved by the extreme alternatives. The extreme right scored more than 13 points in the city of Buenos Aires and five points in the province of Peronist tradition. The left, represented by the FIT, got more than 5%, in what it describes as the best choice of the last ten years.
Why have the primaries had such an impact?
The primaries have had such an impact because they exposed political differences within the coalition. And at the same time, the crossovers about responsibilities in defeat began.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s message last Thursday had a lot of resonance. Through a public letter, disseminated by networks, he said: “I always stressed the lack of effectiveness in different areas of government.” He also made reference to the “wrong fiscal adjustment policy that was having a negative impact on economic activity and, therefore, on society as a whole and that, undoubtedly, this was going to have electoral consequences.”
When are the general elections?
The main problem is that the Government of Alberto Fernández still has two years ahead. The next presidential elections will be in 2023. And also, before that, in two months, on November 14, Argentines will have to go to the polls to elect part of the Deputies and Senators who will renew the two houses in Congress. In that instance, it will be confirmed whether the numbers from last Sunday’s primaries remain intact and how the internal crisis within the Frente de Todos will impact the result.
What can happen?
The scenarios are many and very diverse.
It may happen that the ruling coalition breaks down and that Alberto Fernández resigns, along with all his ministers, and Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner assumes power. It may happen that the president gives in to pressure, changes his officials, leaves more space for Kirchnerism in the government and continues to govern, although with less power. It may be that both sides give in, hand over officials, and negotiate a new cabinet. And it may even happen, although it is more unlikely, that the Kirchner wing leaves the government and leaves the president and his officials in charge until the end of their term.
Nor can it be ruled out that, after a week of internal shouting and crossed responsibilities, the waters calm down, tension drops and the Government focuses on the November elections and managing a country with the economy on fire. Because, as they say Juan Domingo Perón said, “the Peronists are like cats: it seems that they are fighting and in reality they are reproducing.” The list of new officials, appointed on Friday night, reinforces the hypothesis that, at least until now, there are still channels for dialogue.