Political party activity in Argentina has been sporadic, given the frequency of military takeovers and the many years during which parties have been banned. Still, several parties reformed in the 1980s and continued to be active in the 1990s and the early years of the 21st century.
Traditionally, the alignment of Argentine political parties has been along socioeconomic and religious lines. The landowners, the high clergy, and the more conservative lower class supporters have formed an alliance that defends the church and the status quo. On the other side have been the advocates of change: merchants and professionals who resent the preeminence of the aristocracy and who tend also to be anticlerical. This second group has supported separation of church and state and decentralization. However, in modern times, new parties have emerged to represent the working class, small farmers, and intellectuals.
During the first half of the 20th century, the Radical Party in Argentina was either the governing party or the chief opposition. The Radicals were committed to the expansion of Argentine politics to the middle and lower classes, and a transformation of the nation's economic and social life. This party was as close to a mass-based party as Argentina had ever had. The core was middle class, but the party was also supported by upper- and lower-class elements. Only radical by the standards of Argentine politics, it occupied a middle ground between the Conservatives and the Socialist left. However, with a heterogeneous membership, tensions and schisms were frequent. The party split into the Radical Intransigent Civic Union (Unión Cívica Radical Intransigente—UCRI), which formed the major support for Arturo Frondizi in 1958, and the People's Radical Civic Union (Unión Cívica Radical del Pueblo—UCRP), led by Ricardo Balbín. The UCRP was somewhat more nationalistic and doctrinaire than the UCRI, but shifting policies made the differences difficult to define. Balbín's party survived into the 1980s as the Radical Civic Union (Unión Cívica Radical—UCR). After the military stepped down in 1983, that party was one of the few viable political entities in Argentina, and emerged victorious in the 1983 elections. However, with the failure of the Alfonsín administration, the UCR found itself again in its old role as loyal opposition. The UCR regained the presidency in 1999 with de la Rúa, but his dismal performance and his early departure sent the UCR into its worst crisis in history. In the 2003 presidential election, the UCR official candidate only captured2.3% of the vote.
The Conservatives dominated Argentine politics from about 1874 to 1916 and again from 1932 to 1945 when they were known as the National Democrats. This era of Argentine politics was known as the "Concordancia." The Conservatives were the chief spokesmen for the landed interests, from whom they drew their main support. During the Perón regime, the right lost most of its influence. In 1958, conservative parties banded together to form the National Federation of Parties of the Center (Federación Nacional de Partidos del Centro). Years of military rule in the name of conservatism yielded no mass-based conservative parties, mainly because the military professed a disdain for partisan politics. Currently, there are several small right-wing parties, the largest of which is the Union of the Democratic Center (UCD).
Although leftism in Argentina has a long tradition, it was dealt a serious blow during the 1976–83 military governments. Those governments were committed to the extermination of all leftist influences. This meant the jailing and "disappearance" of leaders of the socialist and communist movements. In addition, Peronism preempted much of the ideological appeal of these parties, as well as their traditional working-class constituencies. The earliest leftist party was the Communist Party, founded in 1918 by Juan B. Justo, who split from Yrigoyen and the Radicals. The Communists were never terribly revolutionary, but concentrated instead on the trade union movement. In the 1970s, Argentine leftism was thrown into confusion by the appearance of several substantial "urban guerrilla" movements. The Trotskyist People's Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo—ERP), the Montoneros, and the Peronist Armed Forces (FAP), among others, became major players on the Argentine political scene, if only because of the dramatic impact of their actions. Their presence may well have hastened the return of Perón in 1974, but their persistence became a major justification for the military repression that followed. Refusing to make any distinction between a leftist and a terrorist, the government decimated the Argentine left.
Peronism, which defies political classification, is still very much alive in Argentina, in name if not in anything else. Peronism went underground for nearly two decades after the coup of 1955. Operating under the names Popular Union Party, Populist Party, and Laborite Party, a variety of Peronist organizations put up candidates wherever possible. The movement was alternately wooed, tolerated, or repressed, depending on the degree to which the military was involved. In 1973, elections were held in which the Peronists were allowed to field a candidate, Hector J. Cámpora, representing a coalition of various Peronist factions and other smaller parties. This coalition, the Justice Liberation Front (Frente Justicialista de Liberación—FREJULI), took 49% of the vote. Under Cámpora's successors, Juan Perón and Isabel Perón, FREJULI remained the governing coalition until the March 1976 coup, after which political activity was suspended until 1980. A "reform" movement led to infighting that crippled the party in the 1983 elections.
In 1989, Carlos Menem's victory was accompanied by solid legislative majorities in both houses of the legislature. The Justicialist Party (JP) had 122 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 27 seats in the Senate. In the elections of May 1995, the party took 132 of a total 257 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 38 of a total 72 Senate seats. In 1999, the JP suffered a set back in the Chamber, but retained control of the Senate. In 2001, the JP regained seats in the Chamber reaching a total of 116 and increased its hold of the Senate where it controlled 66 seats, two short of a majority. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for late 2003 and the Peronistas are once again expected to remain as the dominant party in both chambers.
Argentina's party politics have been contentious and vicious over the years, with various sides coalescing in order to defeat rivals. One notable exception was the formation in July 1981 of the Multipartidaria, an alliance among Argentina's five leading parties—FREJULI, the UCR, the Democratic Christian Federation (Federación Demócrata Cristiana), the Movement for Integration and Development (Movimiento de Integración y Desarrollo—MID), and the Intransigent Party (Partido Intransigente). Claiming the support of about 80% of the voters, this opposition alliance began to negotiate with the military concerning a return to constitutional government, and in July 1982, political parties were formally permitted to resume their activities.
In April 1994, the Front for a Country of Solidarity (Frente del País Solidario or Frepaso) was formed. A center-left group, it has won widespread middle-class support by campaigning against government corruption. It defeated the UCR for second place in the 1995 legislative elections when it gained a representation in the Chamber of Deputies of 29 members. In 1999, Frepaso joined the UCR to create the Alianza (alliance) to elect UCR candidate Fernando de la Rúa. He was elected with 48.5% and assumed the presidency in December. The Alianza has a slim majority in the lower house of Congress, but the Justicialists remain in control of the Senate. The Alianza proved to be short-lived. With the resignation of Vice President Carlos Álvarez in 2000, the Alianza fell apart. With de la Rúa resignation in 2001, a new leftwing movement emerged led by former Radical Party deputy Elisa Carrió. Her Alternative for a Republic of Equals (ARI) won 8 seats in the Senate and 17 seats in the Chamber in 2001 and Carrió placed fourth in the 2003 presidential election. It remains to be seen if ARI will remain a political party beyond the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2003.
Despite the political and social crisis, the Peronista and Radical parties continue to dominate Argentinean politics. In the 2001 midterm election, the Peronistas regained ground in the Chamber and Senate. De la Rúa's demise dealt a severe blow to the Radical Party. In the 2003 presidential election, the Radical Party candidate obtained fewer than 3% of the vote, but two formerly Radical Party militants running as an independent and in a leftist coalition collected more than 30%. The Peronist party also faced the 2003 election in the midst of a division. The three Peronist presidential candidates obtained more than 50% of the vote combined, showing that party's continuous domination of Argentine politics.