Milei’s presidency has Peronism at a crossroads. What now?

Plagued by infighting over leadership and its place as the opposition, Argentina’s largest political movement is engulfed by uncertainty

Despite presiding over skyrocketing inflation and an administration beset by infighting, Peronism was upbeat in October 2023. Presidential candidate Sergio Massa had just obtained 37% of the vote in the national elections, barely shy of the 40% required to win. The result set up a run-off between Massa, a representative of Argentina’s largest political movement, and libertarian economist Javier Milei, who had only entered politics two years prior.  

What happened next is history. Milei won in a landslide and has become the pivotal axis of Argentine politics and an icon for the global right. Peronism has mostly receded to the background, forced to find its footing as the opposition while it struggles to find new leadership and common ground among all its factions.

“It’s very hard to offer society a government option when the movement’s political praxis has tended to be absolutely exclusionary and fragmentary recently,” said Peronist and La Cámpora member Lucía Portos, who is currently Buenos Aires province Gender and Sexual Diversity Policies Undersecretary.

The problems within Peronism vary depending on who you talk to. Still, while the election showed public disappointment in the previous administration, some party members feel a lack of political resistance to the Milei administration. 

“Peronism today is incapable of taking action,” said Fernando Gray, the Peronist mayor of the Esteban Echeverría district in Buenos Aires province. For him, the current party authorities, who have remained mostly silent since Milei took office, are not “acting according to an opposition role.”

Peronism includes a large ideological spectrum in which its politicians can lean closer to the left or right. Some Peronist politicians are close to the current administration, such as Tucuman Governor Osvaldo Jaldo or Milei’s Tourism, Environment, and Sports Secretary Daniel Scioli who formerly served as vice president for Néstor Kirchner. In the case of this story, we are talking about Peronists who remain allied to Kirchnerism and are fiercely opposed to Milei.

You may also be interested in: What happened to Peronism?

A ship with no captain

Although there are many Peronist parties, the biggest and most relevant one is Partido Justicialista (PJ). On March 22, the PJ had a congress for the first time since former president Alberto Fernández’s government ended. Fernández, the PJ’s current president, used the congress to ask for a leave of absence. Five party vice presidents were appointed to take his place temporarily at the helm of the party.

With Fernández out of the picture and no other Peronist figure in a clear position to take over, the lack of leadership is a crucial issue moving forward.

There is no shortage of candidates for the job. Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof and national deputy Máximo Kirchner — son of former presidents Néstor and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner — are among the names tossed around, but neither has majority support and are at odds with each other. Máximo Kirchner is one of the main leaders and co-founders of La Cámpora, a very vocal and influential Peronist youth movement created during Néstor Kirchner’s presidency.

“The last government was bad. Alberto Fernández was constantly in a push-and-pull situation with La Cámpora. He didn’t measure up to people’s expectations,” Gray said. “Fernández refuses to resign as PJ president. Máximo Kirchner is making no concessions, we lost the election and there’s been no self-reflection on his part. They are leaders society does not identify with.”

Other important Peronist politicians have remained low-profile since the election. Former Vice President Cristina Kirchner, who many see as the only natural party leader, has made it clear she does not intend to continue her political career (despite pleas for her to run for president reaching a fever pitch last year). Massa — who was serving as economy minister while on the campaign trail — said he would be dropping out of politics and has remained mostly out of the public eye since he lost, despite his long and ambitious political career.

Gray insisted on the need for new party’s authorities and to leave Fernández, Kirchner, and La Cámpora behind. “We need a big party renewal. We can’t continue with the same names who always say the same things and expect to win an election.”

For other Peronists, however, focusing on leadership now is a mistake. “That has to be  decided once you’ve agreed on what the political direction to [potentially] govern is. Whoever expresses that idea best becomes the movement’s leader,” Portos said.

Although Portos mentions the January 24 general strike and the failure of Milei’s “omnibus bill” in Congress as important steps for Peronism and the opposition, she knows there is frustration among their followers.

“We need to have an internal debate before doing anything. How can we accomplish anything if we don’t have a political platform first?”

There is an overall consensus that the failure of Alberto Fernández’s government requires Peronism to do some soul-searching. “We have to open things up and invite all sectors in order to build a political platform, which is what we lacked in 2019,” Buenos Aires City Legislature member Juan Manuel Valdés said. Portos, Gray and Valdés agreed that intense infighting under the last government meant Peronism lost its internal cohesion and broader coalition building with other parties and the business sector — a key part of its identity.

However, Valdés warned that while coalitions with other parties are important to help broaden electoral horizons, “a coalition without a platform has no future.”  

“I don’t think this means we have to create a left-wing Milei,” Valdés said. “We need to create a strong government option for the real Argentina, not yelling on social media just like Milei, but from the opposite side of the political spectrum.”

Regardless of who ends up leading the biggest opposition movement, one idea is clear: an internal reassessment within the PJ and taking the people’s demands into consideration is key if Peronism wants to govern again. “We need to rediscuss our political praxis to get [the electorate’s] trust back and agree on the fact that we want to govern to make people’s lives better,” Portos said.

You may also be interested in: Kicillof slams Milei in Buenos Aires legislature opening


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald