Last Friday, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez announced that he would not seek reelection in October, leaving the country’s already wide-open presidential race even more uncertain. To be sure, Fernandez was not even a safe bet to win the nomination of his own Justicialist Party, the leading formation of Argentina’s broader Peronist coalition. Inflation in the country hovers around 100 percent, with the poverty rate at 39 percent. Several people I spoke with on a recent two-week visit to the country expressed some bewilderment that there hasn’t been a mass social uprising of the kind Argentina is known for, though the close ties between the Peronists and Argentina’s labor unions and progressive civil society could be one explanation. In any event, Fernandez’s announcement was not much of a surprise.
His withdrawal now leaves a vacuum at the top of a deeply divided Peronist camp. Ever since he took office in 2019, his clashes with Cristina Fernandez—the former president who, despite her current nominal role as vice president remains the de facto leader of the Peronist movement—have been grist for the rumor mill. Alberto represented a more moderate current of the polymorphous Peronist camp, while Cristina espoused its more populist and personalist versions. Her long-running legal difficulties, which her supporters characterize as a politically motivated “judicial coup,” have become a central theme of the movement’s—and the government’s—political messaging, especially since she was convicted on charges of corruption last year. Though Cristina has ruled out her own candidacy, her grip on the Peronist base’s loyalty makes her the kingmaker in selecting the party’s nominee.
With both Fernandezes out of the running, the most obvious alternative is Sergio Massa, who is currently Argentina’s minister of the economy. But it’s uncertain if Massa, a shape-shifting moderate Peronist who founded his own party for a failed presidential bid in 2015, will appeal to loyalist voters. And his association with the country’s current economic conditions could prove to be a handicap.