BUENOS AIRES, SEPT. 8 -- As President Raul Alfonsin ponders a change in the direction of his government following Sunday's election defeat, the victorious Peronist movement faces the equally challenging task of uniting and defining itself.

Political analysts here have concluded that the Peronists' overwhelming win in the gubernatorial and congressional races came more from a protest vote against the recent performance of Alfonsin's government than from a groundswell of popular support for Peronist policies.

Beset by lingering power struggles between orthodox and reform factions, the blue collar-based movement that Juan Peron founded 40 years ago has yet to formulate a set of coherent and consistent policies in areas crucial to the consolidation of Argentina's fragile democracy, including economic management and military restructuring.

For Peronism to consolidate last weekend's gains and position itself solidly for the 1989 presidential race, commentators here say the party must now clarify its platform and make peace between its progressive, vote-winning politicians, old guard standard bearers and powerful trade union bosses.

Alfonsin, who has kept silent since the electoral loss, continued a series of meetings today with senior ministers and advisers. The strategy sessions are expected to produce a Cabinet reshuffle and shifts in some national policies. All Cabinet members have offered to resign, but attention is focused on the anticipated ouster of Economic Minister Juan Sourrouille.

"The country is heading toward serious economic and social problems that require readjustments," Vice President Victor Martinez told reporters today. He said such moves are now "the responsibility as much of the president and vice president as of the new {mostly Peronist} governors."

He also reported that Alfonsin plans to meet soon with Peronist leader Antonio Cafiero to discuss impending economic measures. Cafiero led the Peronist sweep by taking the governorship of Buenos Aires Province in a landslide.

It was the first public acknowledgement by a senior official that some government measures would be taken in consultation with the Peronists.

Argentina's future may turn on the ability of the governing, centrist Radical Civic Union to find a way of sharing power with the Peronists, either directly in a coalition arrangement or indirectly in talks and political negotiations.

The Peronist victory marked the Radicals' first major defeat since Alfonsin took power in 1983 and deprived the government of its majority in the 254-seat lower house of Congress. The Radicals are now left controlling 117 seats, and the Peronists 105. The Peronists also assumed control of 16 of the nation's 22 state houses. Only two remain in the hands of Radicals.

The Peronists have called for changes in economic policy, especially management of the nation's $54 billion foreign debt. They have urged a suspension of debt payments and a reduction of Argentina's debt through a plan -- similar to the one recently proposed by Brazil -- to convert principal into long-term securities such as bonds which could be sold at a discount.

Beyond the debt issue, though, Peronist programs for reactivating the Argentine economy have been vague and contradictory.

Additionally, Jose Luis Manzano, leader of the Peronists' reform bloc in Congress, today demanded the resignation of Defense Minister Horacio Jaunarena. He said Sunday's vote reflected, among other things, lack of public approval of the government's military policy.

The dominant reform wing of Peronism that Manzano represents opposed Alfonsin's successful move in Congress last June to cancel most of the planned trials of armed forces officers accused of murder, torture and kidnaping during the military repression of the 1970s.

But highlighting one of a number of internal party rifts, hard-line Peronist deputies pushed at the same time for an even broader amnesty.

On the economic front, Argentina faces a resurgence of inflation, a widening fiscal deficit and a dwindling trade surplus. Despite the signing last month of a $34 billion debt-restructuring accord -- which promises $1.95 billion in new money from commercial banks and about $1 billion from the International Monetary Fund -- the country is running out of funds and is expected to have to seek still more loans before the end of the year or dip into reserves.

Local commentators said Alfonsin's choice now is essentially between a clear turn toward orthodoxy, meaning a deepening of plans to deregulate and privatize the economy in order to permit the free play of markets, or a shift toward more populist measures in an attempt to occupy the Peronists' political space.

The orthodox route is opposed by both traditional and youth factions in the Radical party. But the alternative course risks stoking inflation and rupturing relations with international banks.

For their part, Peronist leaders do not appear inclined to join in a formal coalition with Alfonsin to help him out of the economic mess. But they do want at least a dialogue with the government and a hand in elaborating some policies.

The Peronists are reluctant to become identified too closely with a goverment under Alfonsin. They also have their own conflicts to resolve, which is now largely Cafiero's challenge.

He is expected to seek the presidency of the Justicialist party -- as the Peronist movement is formally called -- at a national convention yet to be scheduled. But uniting Peronism's combative fronts will require considerable political massaging.

Under Peron, the party considered itself the only legitimate spokesman of the people and the repository of national identity. Cafiero personifies a modern current that has been trying to democratize not only the movement's internal practices but also relations with the rest of Argentina's political spectrum.