Given the weak state of the political opposition in Argentina today, it has become evident that the biggest threat to the government is not coming from the outside, but from within the Kirchnerist ranks.
Kirchnerism, like Peronism, is an ideologically broad movement held together by pragmatic interests and strong leadership. Progressive and conservative forces coexist in a delicate balance that anything, like the upcoming electionsor personal interests, can upset.
After two years of mounting tension, the leader of the CGT umbrella union, Hugo Moyano, finally broke ranks and made his move to the opposition explicit. There has been much speculation as to the reasons why Moyano and President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner grew apart. From pseudo-psychological explanations about her blaming him for her husband’s death (apparently, Kirchner and Moyano had a heated argument the night before he died) to more politically significant ones about Moyano’s own aspirations.
Moyano’s CGT was an important ally of both Kirchnerist governments, even at their most difficult times during the campo crisis. In true Peronist fashion, unionism became one of the ‘legs’ the Kirchnerist project stood on. However, history shows that the relationship between unions and politics has never been as smooth as politicians would like.
From the frustrated attempts in the 1960s by CGT leader Augusto Vandor to create an ‘autonomous Peronism’ during Perón’s exile, to the deadly wounds inflicted on unionism by former president Carlos Menem in the 1990s, many examples illustrate what historian Ezequiel Meler calls an “historical tension”.
Encouraged by the strategic alliance between the first Kirchnerist government and the unions, and by the leading role the latter gained after a decade of decline, Moyano decided it was time to raise the stakes. Increasingly, he moved from making strictly union-related demands, to a more political discourse. He suggested that it would be good to have “a worker as a vice-president”, and pushed to have unionists included in the ballots for deputies in last year’s election.
The president’s refusal to open up the game to unionists before the election led to an escalation of this “historical tension”, which culminated with Moyano’s break-up with the official CGT and his defiant call for a general strike and manifestation at Plaza de Mayo on 27th June.
The long-awaited break-up, however, has not proven favourable for Moyano so far. His display of strength on the 27th June rally backfired, as he did not receive the support he was expecting from other unions. His ideological limits and bad public image have, so far, rendered him unable to become a unifying figure for the opposition and make the jump from unionism to party politics.
With Moyano’s political threat seemingly neutralised, loyal Kirchnerists have focused their attention on another, much bigger internal menace: Buenos Aires province governor Daniel Scioli. When on 12th May he mentioned his intentions to run for president in 2015, alarm bells started ringing within Kircherism. The recent spat between the national government and Scioli’s administration over the economic crisis in Buenos Aires province was the preview of a war that has, for the time being, remained cold.
A product of the 90s, Scioli started his political career with Carlos Menem, and became Néstor Kirchner’s vice-president in 2003 thanks to Eduardo Duhalde’s support. For many progressive Kirchnerists, he does not belong to “the project”. He is seen as a Trojan horse for the neoliberal right, who cannot be trusted. More worryingly, he has very high approval ratings and would today beat anyone in an election, except for Cristina.
The lack of an “ideologically suitable” successor for the current president is the main issue Kirchnerism is facing at the moment. Cristina cannot run for another term without a constitutional reform, for which the vote of two thirds of congress is needed. Many government supporters hope those two thirds can be obtained next year with a good result in the legislative elections. However, Cristina herself has not made any mention about reforming the constitution and running for a third term. She has, in fact, made remarks that suggest the opposite.
It is likely that the idea of constitutional reform will not be denied or confirmed until the last minute though, as doing so earlier (especially ruling it out) could result in an accelerated loss of power for Cristina. In the meantime, Kirchnerists speculate over the possible options for 2015, which at the moment are mainly three: a re-election; the emergence of a new leader that can be anointed as Cristina’s successor (following the example of Dilma and Lula in Brazil); or a pact with Scioli by which he would be allowed to run for president, but remaining heavily conditioned by “true” Kirchnerists.
They fear that a failure to reach one of these solutions and win the 2015 election could mean the end of the “Kirchnerist model”, not at the hands of the opposition, but of one of their own.