Argentina: The far-right advances, the bipartisanship retreats, the dinosaur is still there

Argentines never cease to surprise: on a wintry but sunny Sunday, they put the recycled bipartisanship in intensive care in the Primary, Open, Simultaneous and Compulsory (PASO) elections, when the far-right Javier Milei, until two years ago a TV panelist, became the chosen character to reset the system. The outsider won and all the rest lost.

A strange silence from the population caught the attention of the pollsters. But since Sunday night, the silence gave way to stupefaction with the real electoral hecatomb that was the surprising performance of the “libertarian” Javier Milei and his La libertad Avanza, which they describe as an “aberration” to social justice.

Clearly, in the two months until the general elections, many things can happen, including voters taking the risks posed by Milei and Patricia Bullrich, with their fascist threats.

With a 69% turnout, the majority of those who had the courage to vote in the midst of apathy and indifference were divided in thirds – as many had predicted – with Javier Milei’s La Libertad Avanza winning with 30%. No poll had previously given him such a high percentage. The libertarian party took it with seven million votes.

The popular verdict was resounding: it expressed discontent, anger, lack of belonging, new generations with unprecedented demands. Respect and tolerance do not imply an automatic alignment with the first minority. Not even with the overwhelming 58 per cent that Milei and Bullrich accumulated, in separate forces, points out Mario Wainfeld.

The shift to the right of the electorate, of the planet, the polarisation that strengthens the right are facts. None of this entails a kind of mathematical opportunism to embrace the banners of the adversaries. Bullrich’s programme is unrealisable in Argentina without repression. Milei’s programme adds the unfeasibility of its emblematic measures: dollarisation, organ sales, vouchers for education. Adding the institutional weakness it would have.

The PASO compulsory primaries were intended to determine who the candidates of the different parties would be in the elections on Sunday 22 October and to find out if the far-right phenomenon had taken root in a country that, until now, had moved in democracy between liberal-conservatism and the centrist amalgam (sometimes right-wing, sometimes progressive and even revolutionary) that is Peronism or Justicialism.

It is a historical humiliation for Peronism to go from being the country’s armoured majority to the third of a country of thirds. Undoubtedly, the lousy government of Alberto Fernández ended up “committing suicide” for the party of Perón and Evita. But if we look at what happened, the neoliberal coalition’s election is as catastrophic as that of Peronism, considering that just two years ago the polls indicated that they had a guaranteed next government, with 40% of the vote. The sad spectacle of a brutal internal campaign took its toll.

Given the dismal electoral performance of the ruling party, some debates are still pending, such as whether Axel Kiciloff’s decision to win again in the province of Buenos Aires was the right one, or if, instead of betting on retaining this crucial district, he should have invested his political capital in running for the presidency.

It seems logical, given the fait accompli, to ask oneself if it will be profitable in the national elections to bet on the Buenos Aires result for the candidacy of a Minister of Economy who is not making any headway in taming inflation, protected by a president -Alberto Fernández- who is accused of being the “assassin” of Peronism.

Both Milei and his party came out on top, winning in several provinces, leaving behind the two coalitions that won the last three elections. Neither of them reached 30 percent nationally. The neoliberals of JxC came in just one point ahead of an exploited government, which shows as its calling card more than 120% inflation this year.

When the differences between projections and reality are as extreme as in this case, the question arises as to whether they are simple sampling errors or malpractice induced by candidates who pay for the polls and consulting firms that agree to put their stamp on results rigged to suit the client. None of the 13 polls gave Milei the winner and twelve gave him third place, recalls Perfil.

There is an important portion of society for whom this man’s extravagance, his verbal and gestural violence, his anti-political discourse, fits right in with his desire to punish the “caste”. A phenomenon similar to what happened with Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Donald Trump in the United States. Leaders punished by politically correct thinking, but functional to the weariness of certain sectors. Including people from different socio-economic strata, adds the magazine.

A proponent of the sale and purchase of organs, the free use of firearms, the privatisation of education and the closure of the Central Bank, after learning of his triumph, he thanked his dead dog after a journalistic book revealed that he maintains a fluid dialogue with his deceased English mastiff through a medium; as well as receiving advice from dead economists through his other (living) dogs.

Most voters do not know and are not interested in what the candidate says, thinks or will do.

The situation

The murder of an 11-year-old girl in Lanús (in the conurbation of Buenos Aires) and the suspension of the electoral campaign events and closings are a huge and symbolic proof that insecurity is part of the painful reality, but the parties give the impression that they have nothing to say or do in the face of this collective drama.

Last Thursday, in a square adjacent to the Obelisk, some activists were discussing the uselessness of voting when the city police intervened. Several were arrested and thrown to the ground, face down. Facundo Molares, a left-wing militant, had his neck squeezed by the police on his knees, causing his death. Just like what happened to the African-American George Floyd in Minnesota in May 2020. But that policeman was convicted of murder.

It must be borne in mind that Sunday 13 was an election call in the midst of a profound economic and social crisis, in a country immersed in a more than critical situation. The permanent debt maturities are a veritable sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of all Argentines.

Inflation, which is well over 100 per cent a year, is a daily pain that the vast majority of people have to endure. Poverty is widespread throughout the country: it closed the year 2022 at 39.2%, which reveals that 11,465,599 people suffer from it, according to official figures, although other measurements place it at over 40%.

Even more serious is the fact that one out of every five white-collar workers receive an income below the poverty line. It is also serious the detail provided by the UNICEF report which indicates that by the end of 2022, two out of every three children in Argentina (66%) will be part of households that have a poverty income.

This year, due to the recession, a drop of 2.5 per cent is forecast for 2022. The fact is that while the economy was growing, poverty and inequality also grew. There was redistribution of income, but it was in favour of the powerful. By the way, there are not many precedents of elections held in similar frameworks. And it is striking that the ruling party’s top presidential candidate is the minister of the economy and the person responsible for these policies.

How to add votes?

Now, Bullrich and the ruling party’s Sergio Massa face different challenges. For Peronism, it is a matter of mobilising more voters and scratching out votes in the territories with militants and party stalwarts. And they will surely be proposing themselves as an alternative to two right-wing economic and cultural rivals. At first glance, Milei subtracted votes from JxC, but the total for Peronism was one of the lowest since the democratic recovery.

The dilemma facing Patricia Bullrich, the JxC candidate, is where else she can add votes, because it is difficult for the bold who voted for Milei and La libertad Avanza to vote for her when her own party can win. Or that a Peronist disenchanted with Sergio Massa will take a suicidal leap. Bullrich has the task of adding up. The problem is how.

Former president Mauricio Macri, in his internal struggle to leave Horacio Rodríguez Larreta out, almost killed the coalition he created and which did so much damage to the country, leaving it on the edge of the precipice of being left out of the national government. But Macri has a good dialogue with Milei and aspires to be the articulator of a new Argentina led by him and ‘Pato’ Bullrich, a controversial and repressive candidate, with experience in Macri’s cabinets, who defeated the head of government of the capital, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, and will represent the traditional right.

After the PASO, Milei became the main favourite, with 30.06% of the votes. The primaries, in which voting is compulsory, are also free and a testing ground with respect to the presidential elections, in which the punishment and anger vote is more prominent. That will be the hope of the continuismo represented by Massa, the current government’s economy minister and candidate for Unión por la Patria, a party that came third and won 27.3 per cent of the vote.

It is no longer enough to shout “Long live Perón”: it is necessary to update the discourses, to understand what is happening in a country in crisis, to understand the needs of the people, the poverty, unemployment, hunger: daily tranquility and making ends meet, without dying in the effort.

Between now and October, when Argentines wake up every day, the dinosaurs will still be there, as pointed out in the short story (the shortest in the world, only seven words) by the Guatemalan-Mexican Augusto Monterroso.

Aram Aharonian