Peronism has the gift of survival. Despite his old age – since his first election victory in Argentina he will soon be 80 years old – he reacts when he sees himself too close to the abyss. He did so in May 2019 when Cristina Kirchner brought forth the candidacy of Alberto Fernández, who defeated Mauricio Macri with 48% of the vote. And now he’s done it again. On Thursday of last week, Peronism reunited after a year of strife. Like four years ago, it happened out of sheer necessity. Parliamentary elections are in October and things are not looking good for the ruling party. As the economic crisis worsens, the President and Vice President are not speaking. After five hours of discussions at party headquarters, 33 leaders – including Alberto Fernández but not Kirchner – agreed to unite “in diversity” to “prevent the return of the right”. After all, it’s what Perón’s heirs do best: banding together to win elections.
The coalition that governs Argentina is called the Frente de Todos. “Jedermann” includes Kirchner and Kirchnerism, Alberto Fernández and Albertismo, and Economy Ministers Sergio Massa and Massismo. But things don’t end there. Also in the bag are governors looking for their own space, powerful trade unionists and leaders of social movements. Last December, hours after she was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption and banned from public office, Kirchner announced in a video that she opposed any electoral aspirations. “I’m not running for anything,” she said. His decision opened a gap in the front’s strategy. Kirchner is the most sympathetic figure of Peronism, but not enough to win on his own. Without Kirchner, Alberto Fernández, whose popularity does not exceed 30%, saw an open door for his re-election in a race that also includes Sergio Massa. The map, which appears simple, hides a very complex framework.
Thursday’s meeting was a kind of collective catharsis. Albertism accused Kirchnerism of not letting it govern. Kirchnerism accused the President of having “broached” and not listening to the coalition’s majority faction. Massismo warned that political noise is hampering Massa’s efforts to bring down inflation (which was close to 100% in 2022) and meet the austerity and reserve accumulation targets agreed with the IMF a year ago. Massa had promised a CPI of less than 4% in March, but the 6% registered in January makes it impossible to reach that goal. We will even see that it can close out 2023 with the 60% inflation that appears in the budget approved by Congress.
“No bad result in a game will take me out of the championship fight to bring down inflation,” Massa said after the meeting. If he fails, his ambitions as president are gone. And there’s the President, expectant. Fernández hesitates as long as he can define whether he will run or not, while Kirchnerism warns him not to dream of a new mandate. At least it was agreed in the conclave that there will be primary elections (PASO) in August, as required by law, but as long as Fernández opts out. “We find it very difficult to conduct a PASO against the President,” said Interior Minister Eduardo de Pedro, Kirchner’s representative at the Frente de Todos meeting. A campaign in which the candidates criticize the management would further weaken the Casa Rosada, think of Kirchnerism.
And Cristina Kirchner? The Vice-President, even in her weakness, is the most affable figure of Peronism. But his legal problems hamper any political strategy. In the Peronist conclave, it was decided to set up a commission to persuade her to run for either president or senator for the province of Buenos Aires, her electoral stronghold. Alberto Fernández agreed: he subscribes to the Kirchnerist thesis that Cristina has been banned since December when she was convicted of corruption. In exchange for his support, he received a promise that friendly fire against his management will not be lethal, as has been the case so far.
“There was a strong commitment from all sectors to implement an action plan to ask Cristina to reconsider her decision not to run, Minister De Pedro said. On March 24, during commemorations to mark the new anniversary of the 1976 military coup, the rioting will reach its climax. The proposal hides little contradiction in official discourse: Kirchner says he is outlawed, but since the verdict is not final, nor will it be in the short term, is not barred from running.
The opposition, on the other hand, watches the ebb and flow of the Casa Rosada with the enthusiasm of someone who already feels like a winner. But that same conviction of triumph overheated his own prisoner for choosing a candidate. Former President Mauricio Macri keeps tension on his candidacy as he fuels internal struggle.
This week the head of government of the city of Buenos Aires, the centrist Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, will start the race. His decision pits him against Macri and the far right sectors of Together for Change, as the opposition coalition is known. Patricia Bullrich, Macri’s former security minister, waits there while leaders of the Radical Civic Union (UCR), a centenarian party that was once the main counterweight to Peronism, seek their own space. There are still eight months until the presidential elections in Argentina, an eternity.
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