December 5, 2013
Explain Peronism? It’s easier said than done. But in any case there is such a thing as an official Peronist party and in Spanish it goes by the name of Partido Juticialista (PJ). The historic problem for this party is that its founder, Juan Perón, only conceived it as an “electoral tool” at the service of his more expansive political “movement.” Party discipline has never been obligatory even when, in the 90s, the PJ was reinvented as a slicker machine by then-president Carlos Menem, a Peronist who embraced neoconservative policies. Yet every now and then Peronist bigwigs will remember that they do actually belong to a politcal party, which is now a member of the ruling Victory Front coalition. Something must have clicked after the Victory Front’s defeat at the hands of Tigre Mayor Sergio Massa in August in Buenos Aires province because suddenly top officials have time to attend party meetings. The National Justicialist Council, headed by Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, convened on Monday night to close ranks behind President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner even in the face of electoral defeat. But the underlying message was that excluded from these party talks was Massa, who served as CFK’s Cabinet chief for a year in 2008-2009, and is now canvassing successfully as a rebel Peronist looking to take the “movement” in a more right-of-centre direction. Debates about to what degree Massa is still a Peronist are a pointless exercise with the PJ’s history, but for now the message sent out to the young Tigre mayor is that he is not welcome at these official party meetings.
Massa can rightly answer back in defiance that he did not need Perón’s “electoral tool” to defeat the official Justicialist candidate, Martín Insaurralde, in Buenos Aires province. But the meeting headed by Scioli raises the question of how Massa will deal with the challenge of other potential presidential candidates come 2015. What will eventually turn into a bit of an issue is the question of whether Massa will take part (or will be allowed to take part) in a potential Peronist party presidential primary that will include Scioli as a rival.
Public opinion often has little time for abstract debates about political party politics. Too right. Explain the PJ? At times it can be boring. But perhaps it is time to pay more attention to these issues. After all, democracy tends to work best with strong political parties that stand for something.