Elections in Argentina: Winning and Losing in the New Peronism | Opinion

The president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández (center), speaks to his supporters at the campaign center, following the legislative elections on November 14.
The president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández (center), speaks to his supporters at the campaign center, following the legislative elections on November 14.AGUSTIN MARCARIAN (Reuters)

“On Wednesday we fill the Plaza de Mayo and celebrate this triumph accordingly”. The semi-euphoric statement that President Alberto Fernández made Sunday night in the bunker of the Frente de Todos government coalition largely marks the level of the internal crisis of the ruling Peronism. The loss of control of the Senate for the first time since 1983, the 8.9 points of difference at the national level with the opposition coalition of Together for Change, and even the novelty of the irruption of the libertarian phenomenon – a new political space on the right Argentina that directly disputes two concepts expensive to historical Kirchnerism, “youth” and “rebellion” – configure a scenario of comprehensive defeat for the ruling party that extends from demography to ideology. What became of hegemonic and majority Peronism, the Argentine Order Party, the great organizer of national life and the backbone of its political system?

For a movement that always assumed for itself a certain political “bilardism” – a football metaphor that refers to a bulletproof pragmatism and a clear orientation to prioritize victory over success. Beautiful game– This celebration of a defeat could be, a priori, a great novelty. And yet it is not so. Rather, it is the logical consequence of an internal transformation that has been going on for almost a decade and that cemented, under the leadership of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a radical mutation in the ethos Peronist.

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“He who wins leads and he who loses accompanies” is an old maxim of Argentine politics that Peronism adopted for itself. In practice, it implied a method of transition for their leadership in a movement that was always better organized around leaderships –and the interpretation that they could make of their historical present- rather than rigid programmatic or ideological schemes. In the absence of a “finger” -as they called in Mexico the succession scheme of the PRI- of the palace purges typical of the Leninist democratic centralism of the Communist and related parties, and in the absence of a more or less formal mechanism to process the successions, Peronism passed the stage and screen, neutralizing or liquidating, in practice, the previous leadership. This was generally the norm after Perón’s death in 1974: this was the case with Menem against Cafiero in 1988 – the only one who disputed a formal party internal – with Duhalde against Menem in 2002-2003 and with Kirchner against Duhalde in 2005 New leadership that was built on the early retirement – or head on a pike – of the previous leader.

After the death of Néstor Kirchner in 2010, this pattern seems to have fundamentally changed. After the historic result in her re-election in 2011 – an impressive 54% – Cristina Fernández de Kirchner set out to fundamentally modify some of the classic precepts of the old movement. In practice, it was a matter of building a permanent minority within the Peronist body, with its own ideology, symbols and historiography, located more clearly to the left and heir to the revolutionary tradition of the Argentine seventies generation, which became a center-left culture. The political operation was completed with the slaughter of another Peronist political generation, that of the “sons of Menemism”, and the enthronement of a new one, daughter of the Argentine crisis of 2001, and completely indebted of its power to the new leadership. Christianity. The accelerated construction of a new political elite.

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Paradoxes of History. Within the Peronist movement, this plan turned out to be a resounding success: Kirchnerism managed to survive the defeats to which its predecessors – Menemism, Duhaldism – succumbed. Now, the one who loses continues to drive and retire, no one retires. In terms of leadership, its internal rivals – Sergio Massa, the current president of the Chamber of Deputies, was undoubtedly the most relevant – managed to limit and stop it, but never replace it. But what this Peronism gained in ideological and cultural “monolithism” inwardly, it lost in electoral and territorial growth outward. From 2011 onwards, Kichnerism lost the 2013 elections -to its current ally Sergio Massa- in 2015 -incarnated in the presidential formula of Daniel Scioli against Mauricio Macri- and in 2017, where Cristina herself was defeated by macrism in legislative elections. A path of electoral failures that was only reversed in 2019 with the concretion of the Peronist unity, executed by Cristina herself with most of her old internal rivals, in a gesture that revealed both her political genius and the evident limitations of its own paradigm. And a process – this of a Peronism that abandons the center and gives it away to its adversaries – that largely explains the symmetrical growth of the rival coalition in the same period of time.

Peronism only won again when it explicitly reversed this model of political construction. Despite this, the government of Alberto Fernández could not, did not want or did not know how to crystallize this electoral format into a new social, cultural and political coalition that could get the old movement out of this historical trap. The result is a swift return to geography, sociology, and the method of Christianity, and consequently to its electoral defeats. Perhaps what remains then is to start celebrating them.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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