Argentina: Feud within Peronist Party Threatens Elections
The longstanding feud between President Eduardo Duhalde and former President Carlos Saul Menem (1989-1999) has intensified and is threatening to derail presidential elections, scheduled for March 30, 2003.
At stake in the near term is the party primary to choose a candidate for the March election.
On Oct. 9, Federal Judge Maria Servini de Cubria declared unconstitutional the open primary process proposed by Duhalde for Dec. 15. Specifically the judge objected to the president's mandate that all parties hold their primaries on the same day and that any registered voter could vote in any party's primary, not just the party to which the voter belonged (see NotiSur, 2002-09-06). She said each party has the right to decide when and how to hold its primary election.
A separate ruling is pending on whether Duhalde's decision to hold elections six months early--a move Congress has not formally endorsed--was constitutional.
The judge's decision most affects the governing Partido Justicialista-peronista (PJ), which is divided into various factions that all have their eye on the party's nomination. But the battle for control of the PJ and the party's primary is of major importance to all Argentines, even--and perhaps especially--those who are not PJ members. Since at this time no other party has the support needed to win the 2003 election, the PJ nominee will likely be the next president.
PJ divisions increasing
Duhalde responded to the judge's decision saying that his date for early presidential elections would not be changed. He said his hope was still to hold an open primary for the PJ in December. Duhalde's commitment to an open primary is closely linked to his animosity toward Menem. An open party primary would likely thwart Menem's presidential ambitions, since the former president is widely disliked outside the PJ.
Duhalde also called for reorganizing the party's Junta Electoral, which oversees the PJ primary and which is dominated by Menemistas. Menem's opponents voice concerns of possible fraud in the primary. PJ pre-candidates Nestor Kirchner and Adolfo Rodriguez Saa and several other PJ leaders have joined Duhalde in demanding that the Junta Electoral be revamped.
Menem, in turn, says the controversy on the primary is a ruse by Duhalde to stay in power beyond May 25, and Menem's supporters say Duhalde will do whatever he can to make sure Menem cannot run for president.
To quell that charge, on Oct. 22 Duhalde submitted his resignation, effective May 25, to the Congress. He asked both houses of Congress to pass a bill confirming the election date for March 30, suspending the convocation of primaries that the court ruled against, and fixing the date for the new president to take office for May 25.
No candidates have strong support
Even if the PJ resolves the battle regarding the primary, it does not have a strong candidate who could unite its various factions.
Rodriguez Saa, who was president for one week during the chaotic period following the forced resignation of Fernando de la Rua in December 2001, at this point is the favorite (see NotiSur, 2002-01-11). Also vying for the PJ nomination are Menem, Cordoba Gov. Jose Manuel de la Sota, and Santa Cruz Gov. …