Beyond the Election: The Message from Argentina



Frustration with the democratic regime, which concentrates income in the hands of a tiny minority and increases social inequality, is at the root of the rise of the extreme right, which comes to power through voting..

Much has already been said about the election in Argentina, with the surprise victory of the far-right candidate Javier Milei in the electoral primaries of 13 August. From a purely electoral point of view, the graph below speaks for itself. Peronism lost the interior of the country, with the exception of a strip in the northwest and another on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

“Any one of the three can end up as president, but the wave comes in favor of whoever finishes first”, says the director of Consultoria Escenarios, for whom, regardless of the candidate who is elected president, no party will have a majority in Congress. Javier Milei introduced himself as a outsider of politics and channeled the protest vote in his favor. It is a worldwide phenomenon, as shown by the examples of Trump, Bolsonaro and Bukele, among others. Milei, with a speech against the “parasitic, corrupt and useless political caste” capitalized on society's discontent and obtained 30,3% of the votes in the Simultaneous and Mandatory Open Primaries (PASO). He claims that he will win in the first round and will reach 8 seats in the Senate and 35 in the Chamber of Deputies. For many analysts, the result was not a surprise, considering the current inflation of more than 100%.

A mechanical and immediatist projection would lead to Milei's prediction of victory in the first round. But the threat of a fascist regime in Argentina has frightened both the left and the non-fascist right. I don't say liberal right, because the so-called liberals, in Latin America, have the bad habit of supporting military dictatorships when their economic interests are threatened. In these cases, the right shelves its liberal discourse and supports the dictatorship. They only keep the economic dimension of liberalism, that is, minimal State and Market privileges. In the current case of Argentina, however, nothing guarantees that businessmen will support Milei, fearful of the turmoil and lack of economic predictability in a very serious political framework of ungovernability.

Despite Milei's comfortable victory in the previews, the result of the first round, on October 22nd, is unpredictable. After all, the disastrous experience of Bolsonarist fascism also had echoes in Argentina, where, for decades, Peronism and the liberal right alternated in power. For some time now, old problems have returned, such as hyperinflation, for example. In this context of economic and political erosion of the traditional parties, the anti-system discourse that only appeals to the emotions of voters fits like a glove. Reflection, rational thought, political argumentation, everything is in the background in favor of compact slogans aimed at the blind adherence of those looking for a leader to obey. We have already seen this film with Bolsonarism in Brazil.

The question that arises is to determine what are the favorable conditions for the advent of a victorious wave of the extreme right. The first of these, and perhaps the most important, is the erosion of traditional parties, whether on the right or on the left. This is clear in the Argentine situation, and beyond. After all, the rise of the far right is a global phenomenon.

The so-called liberal representative democracy failed to meet the needs of the majority of the population. Frustration with the democratic regime, which concentrates income in the hands of a tiny minority and increases social inequality, is at the root of the rise of the extreme right that comes to power by voting, and then implements an authoritarian regime that violates the division of powers. and respect for sociocultural diversity.

It is true that, once in power, the extreme right suffers from the violation of democratic freedoms, the disastrous inefficiency of its governments and the corruption of its leaders. Even so, out of power, the far right maintains a solid base of support. In the USA, for example, Trump, threatened with arrest, is a very strong candidate for the presidency, perhaps the favorite, even if he is imprisoned. Already in Brazil, Bolsonaro, for his stupidity and blatant incompetence, accused the electoral system of being fraudulent, tried the coup and was declared ineligible, leaving the space open to another political leader who comes to dispute the support of the extreme right electorate.

In any case, prudence recommends not neglecting the strengthening of the extreme right by the wear and tear of traditional parties. In the case of Brazil, the Lula government, elected by a broad front that brought together the left, center, and non-fascist right, won the election for the Presidency, but lost to the Legislature. Last year, there was no shortage of people who recommended to candidate Lula a political campaign to ask votes for candidates for deputy and senator aligned with the Lula/Alckmin ticket. This was not done or was done insufficiently. The result is a legislature dominated by the right.

In order to govern and have votes in Congress, the Lula government cedes important political spaces to the Centrão, where right-wingers and corrupt people of all kinds are housed. As a result, important positions in Ministries are being occupied by politicians or technicians who supported the impeachment of former President Dilma, supported Lava Jato and its decisions, including the arrest of Lula. The current government of President Lula will probably face problems, in terms of inefficiency and corruption, with regard to the positions held by Centrão nominees.

Despite the successes already achieved by the Lula Government in the social and economic area, we all know that the concessions made to the market will limit the possibility of great successes in economic development plans which, as a rule, require strong public investment from the State. This, however, seems blocked, at least partially, by the fiscal measures adopted. The great risk is that the Lula government, however successful it may be in the social, cultural, diplomatic, defense of human rights and even economic areas, ends up generating disappointment in a large part of the population, especially in the middle class which, as happened in the past, it is scared when the poor approach and the rich move away.

The rich, although contemplated, the middle class, scared, and part of the poor, even benefited, for different reasons tend to support an extreme right proposal if the Government is disappointing, in their eyes. Add to this a media campaign and international financial support for neo-fascist groups.

An important factor for the erosion and discredit of the democratic regime is the issue of public safety for low-income populations in popular neighborhoods. The massacres perpetrated in these neighborhoods by the Military Police of RJ, Bahia and São Paulo, to name the latest cases of unpunished massacres, lead to wear and tear and discredit to these State Governments, but also to the Federal Government, along with the affected and unprotected populations.

Thus, the result of the election in Argentina is important for Brazil and for all of Latin America. Either democracy deepens and advances, eliminating its enemies – among which stand out, in the case of Brazil, the military and PMs on one side, and unproductive capital on the other – or the neo-fascist wave grows and threatens again the democracy. 

*Liszt scallop is a retired professor of sociology at PUC-Rio. He was a deputy (PT-RJ) and coordinator of the Global Forum of the Rio 92 Conference. Author, among other books, of Democracy reactsGaramond).

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