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Argentina: a review of the recent history of Peronism and the perspective for the 2023 elections

By María Zadívar*

When in 2001, the social outbreak plunged the Argentine Republic into one of the most important economic depressions in its history, the lack of a ruling class aggravated the crisis.

Peronism went out to look for a presidential candidate; with the Stockholm syndrome on its back, it delegated this task to Eduardo Duhalde, one of the architects of that disaster.

After several defections, Néstor Kirchner, an unknown politician from south Argentina, accepted the invitation and became the candidate to compete with Carlos Menem, another Peronist, for the presidential seat.

Argentine, Argentina: a review of the recent history of Peronism and the perspective for the 2023 elections
Argentina’s President, Alberto Fernández, and Vice President, Cristina Kirchner (Photo internet reproduction)

A little bit of history.

During the previous decade, we had gone through what the public knows as “the Menem party”, those years of economic revelry where ordinary people traveled to Disney under the slogan “give me two”.

The world recognized Argentines because they would buy anything; the convertibility of the peso favored them with the dollar, known as the “uno a uno” (one peso was worth one dollar).

For their part, the political, trade union, and business corporations were engaged in no less friendly and certainly lucrative activities.

But reality prevailed: an outlandish public expenditure leveraged with foreign debt, negotiations at least deficient in the sale of public enterprises, and a policy without planning and disregard for the long term collapsed like a house of cards that illusion of having jumped from the third world to the first without effort and stopovers.

Poor and confronted, we had to go on.

The same people who had admired Carlos Menem for the apparent economic upgrade he had managed to give the country did not notice the institutional turnaround that had accompanied that squandering.

More than a turnaround, it could be more graphic to say that he had put on his hat institutions with the endorsement, by omission, of the society, distracted between shopping in Miami and the lavish inaugurations they attended, organized by the international brands that landed in the country.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Justice, with some honorable exceptions, was a den of friends of power, with operators who responded to different interests that had little or nothing to do with impartiality, the opposite of what could be expected from the highest court, a beacon of objectivity and transparency, a guarantor of duty.

As a finishing touch, President Menem’s intention to stay came to the fore.

The excellent National Constitution of 1853, which made the country power in five decades, prevented him from doing so, but his charisma was stronger than the written letter of the law.

He agreed with Raúl Alfonsín, then head of the Unión Cívica Radical (Radical Civic Union), a distribution of favors that pleased both of them and that implied constitutional reform.

The presidential reelection for Menem versus the election by popular vote of the head of the Buenos Aires government (until then, elected by the president of the republic) and the invention of the third senator.

Besides unnecessarily increasing the already obese state, that third senator was a trap for the radicals.

They interpreted that their participation in the legislative bureaucratic structure would increase.

In the immediate term, it was so, but with time, it ended up not being favorable for them.

They assumed this place would correspond to them in almost all districts, even those with a solid Peronist presence.

But, old wolves of the sea, the Peronists invented the division of their party.

Since then, they presented themselves divided into several lists, thus occupying those spaces for the majority and the minority.

It is difficult to beat the Peronists in “avivadas”.

When the lights of the first world began to go out, the same public that applauded Menem even for his mistakes became indignant and suddenly disgusted with the corruption that, although it was a machinery that had been working since the beginning of his administration, people seemed to discover it when he stopped traveling to Disney.

Radicalism was virtually extinct due to that deal, leaving only Peronism as an electoral option: it would be Menem or Kirchner, Eduardo Duhalde’s pupil.

At that moment, Ricardo López Murphy appeared with a serious proposal from the center that offered a change.

People were enthusiastic, and his figure grew.

His voting intentions were behind the two well-known candidates, but each survey positioned him better.

From a distant third place, he came dangerously close to the elections; some consultants gave him second place, and in the days before the election, head to head with Menem, the leader.

His audience was made up of liberals and disenchanted ex-Menemists.

Essentially, López Murphy was fishing there, the one who today is leaning towards Mauricio Macri’s formation.

You don’t have to be a sharp analyst to understand that this shift of votes favored the plans of the Duhalde-Kirchner duo, Carlos Menem’s bitter enemies.

At that time, it was challenging to make the commoner understand that López Murphy was, of course, the best option but that Kirchner was the worst and that, since the liberal candidate would be able to make it, voting for López Murphy meant weakening the opposition to Kirchnerism which, at this juncture, was former President Menem.

Thus, with the euphoria, the lack of a strategy to make the vote count, and the tremendous vivacity of Peronism and marketing, the expected happened.

The vote against the worst was divided in two, and Kirchner won.

All this long introduction is related to the process underway in Argentina because the similarities are frightening.

The public is fed up with Kirchnerism and disappointed with Macrism because both failures are in sight.

The conditions were given, as they were then, for the appearance of a third option, and it happened:

Javier Milei.

In 2021, Milei ran in the mid-term parliamentary elections in a single district.

His success in coming third excited him before anyone else since, shortly after taking office as a congressman, he had already expressed his intention to be a candidate for president.

The political support he has, if any, is being withheld.

However, the pollsters started their work.

He started third with a reasonable projection, then second, and currently, some people dare to predict his triumph in the next presidential elections in an eventual ballotage.

Thus, with no candidate for vice-president, no candidate for governor of the province of Buenos Aires, no head of government, and no names that sound for the lists of legislators or for the governorships of the 24 districts to be covered.

His fiery discourse borders on anarchism.

He does not want Central Bank but also despises the state’s role in organizing society.

Controversial statements on the free sale of human organs have, at some point, shaken his voting intention index (it is not known if he will change his mind), and he even outlined some opinions that would imply the modification of the National Constitution to erase from its letter the national tradition of the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion.

An explicit Menemist, he has been sued by several journalists for his statements and has recently declared his intention to form a continental entente with Jair Bolsonaro to fight against the Ibero-American left.

Essentially polemic, the euphoria he provokes does not stop at these issues.

The fanaticism of his followers is faithful to his diatribe against the political class to which he now belongs and of which the citizen is tired, and rightly so.

The truth is that part of the liberal and the center population, historical voters of Mauricio Macri’s party, are fleeing to the ranks of the libertarian anarcho-capitalist.

He was third, then second and on the rise, to the joy of Kirchnerism, which observes from the stands the new conflict of Juntos por el Cambio, its main adversary, whom Milei has recently defined as “a bunch of wretched and dragged people”, moral disqualification in such harsh terms that he has not even dedicated to the most rancid Kirchnerism.

Third, second, perhaps first. The opposition to Kirchnerism is divided. The worst are united.

We must hope that Hegel’s statement that history repeats itself twice is not true; according to Marx, the first time in the form of a tragedy and the next as a gross farce; because if so, in Argentina, where Peronism has undoubtedly been the tragedy, the fear would be that this option would represent its farce.

*María Zaldívar is a journalist and holds a degree in Political Science from the Catholic University of Argentina. Author of the book ‘Peronismo demoliciones: sociedad de responsabilidad ilimitada’ (Edivern, 2014).

With information from LGI

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