Q+A: Argentina’s Peronists, divided but dominant as ever

By Helen Popper

BUENOS AIRES (BestGrowthStock) – Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner, who died last week, worked incessantly behind-the-scenes to win his wife’s government the backing of the Peronist party’s kingpins.

The loss of her wily, power broker husband means President Cristina Fernandez could find it even harder to balance the demands of powerful Peronist union leaders like Hugo Moyano and notoriously fickle provincial governors and mayors.

If Fernandez loses control of the party, Kirchner’s death could mark yet another watershed in the history of Peronism, a 60-year-old movement that is famously hard to define.

* What does Peronism stand for?

Peronism is more a way of doing politics than an ideology and the Peronist or Justicialist party has long had left- and right-wing factions. Peronist leaders are often charismatic populists with a pragmatic approach to power.

* What are the Peronist movement’s roots?

A factory boom fostered the rapid growth of a mass working class in the 1940s, sweeping General Juan Peron to power in 1946 and ushering in a period of socialist economic policy that endeared him and his wife Evita to workers but infuriated the country’s landed elite, who saw Peron as a demagogue. The main trade union groups are still aligned with Peronism, mirroring the same divisions and rivalries as the party itself.

* What are the main factions today?

Today the movement is divided between center-left allies of President Fernandez and her late husband Kirchner, and a dissident faction made up of center-right figures including former President Eduardo Duhalde, Felipe Sola — who split from the government after a revolt by farmers in 2008 — and businessman Francisco de Narvaez, who dealt Kirchner a humiliating poll defeat in mid-term legislative elections last year. Prominent Peronists with a more independent profile who are also seen as possible presidential candidates next year include Santa Fe Senator Carlos Reutemann and the governor of Chubut province, Mario Das Neves.

* Why is Peronism still so dominant?

Peronism’s pragmatic capacity for metamorphosis has guaranteed its survival. The lack of a coherent set of beliefs means the movement has been able to transform itself to fit the political mood of the moment, from the free-market policies of former President Carlos Menem in the 1990s to Kirchner’s left-leaning government in the aftermath of the devastating 2001-2002 economic crisis.

* Who is in charge following Kirchner’s death?

The leadership of the party has fallen to Daniel Scioli, the popular governor of Buenos Aires province — the country’s biggest electoral district and a Peronist stronghold. Scioli has served in right- and left-wing Peronist governments and he is seen as a moderate, more acceptable both to business leaders and the dissident Peronist faction. Before Kirchner’s death, Scioli was rumored as a possible candidate for 2011, but he has expressed loyalty to Fernandez.

(Editing by Kieran Murray)

Q+A: Argentina’s Peronists, divided but dominant as ever