Message from Argentina – how to win an election

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By LISZT VIEIRA*

Argentina is easy prey for any far-right demagogue. We have already seen this film in Brazil

Argentina has the highest inflation in the G-20 in 2023. The accumulated rate from January to October was 120%. In 12 months, it reached 142,7%. The number of people living in poverty increased and exceeded 40% of the population in the first half of 2023, according to a survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Census (Indec), a body linked to the Ministry of Economy. Currently, 9,3% of the population lives below the poverty line, in a situation of indigence, when people do not have enough income to cover basic food costs.

Given this situation, the majority want change. There is no point in saying that the change could be for the worse. The word change, in general, carries an evaluative charge of hope. This positive value charge helps explain, for example, why the expression “climate change” never scared anyone, at least until recently. It would have been better to use the word “crisis” instead of change, but psychology is not climate scientists’ strong suit. In this current situation of dramatic crisis, Argentina is easy prey for any far-right demagogue. We have already seen this film in Brazil.

The “anti-system” candidate received 55,7% of the votes, winning in 21 of the 24 provinces. He is the best elected president since the return of democracy in 1983. The golden rule for winning the election is to say loud and clear that you are against the system. The vast majority of the population does not really know what the “system” is, but they understand that it means change, and they want to change because they live poorly in the current situation. Therefore, the candidate does not need to waste time with a government program or elaborate projects, just half a dozen key words, starting with criticism of the system, of course.

There are many explanations for this. One of the main ones, in my opinion, is the crisis of so-called representative democracy or, if you prefer, bourgeois democracy. After all, the “system” learned to manipulate elections through various mechanisms, including using the mass media and, more recently, dominating social networks on the internet with robots shooting fake news for millions of people. As a result, the majority of the population does not realize the losses they suffer from the dominant neoliberal policy and sees their enemy in the State's public spending.

The proposal to cut public expenditure in the name of “zero deficit” or “fiscal balance” aims to weaken the State, making it a Minimum State, to more easily channel public resources to the market. Of course this is not explained and said that way. It is easier to attack unpopular public spending, such as the high salaries of parliamentarians, judges, or the corruption that, in all governments, appears in public tenders. There are many other arguments with technical guises, but in essence it is about reducing the weight of the State to more easily allocate public resources to banks and the entire financial market.

Many decades ago, those who spoke against the “system” were the left, attacking bourgeois democracy. When it came to power, the left implemented important social policies, but was forced to make agreements in the name of governability. The current Lula government is a good example. With a Congress dominated by the right, it makes agreements and appoints right-wing politicians to high positions in the State apparatus who, in an election year, will support right-wing candidates against the candidates supported by the government that nominated them.

The concessions are not limited to appointing physiological politicians from the Centrão. The government, through its Minister of Economy, makes concessions to the neoliberal thesis of zero deficit to please the financial market and the media defending its interests.

Despite the differences between Argentina and our country, Javier Milei's victory in the Argentine election turned on the yellow light for Brazil. There is no doubt that this is an important reinforcement for the advancement of the extreme right in the world. Orbán in Hungary, Erdogan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump in the USA – who, despite being prosecuted, already surpasses Joe Biden in the polls – Modi in India, Zelenski in Ukraine, Meloni in Italy and the extreme right out of power, but advancing in several European countries, they will be points of support for Javier Milei in Argentina. Maybe even Vladimir Putin, with his dream of being a tsarist autocrat.

In Europe, the strengthening of the ultra-right is worrying. In the case of France, for example, the Communist Party had 2% of the votes in the last election and the Front National, 22%. It is known that many PC voters today vote for the extreme right. The same happened with the “Yellow Vest” protesters (Yellow Vests): they started protesting against the ecological tax on fossil fuel because it would increase the price of gasoline, they ended up almost all voting for Front National far right.

The election of Javier Milei is largely explained by the erosion of Peronism, and the economic crisis that it was unable to overcome. An engineer would say that Peronism suffered a kind of “material fatigue”. Despite the differences in relation to the political climate of Jair Bolsonaro's election in 2018, Javier Milei's crazy speech has many points in common with Jair Bolsonaro's crazy speech.

Both accuse the left, democracy and, directly or indirectly, point to dictatorship as a solution. In the case of Argentina, however, Javier Milei will have more difficulties governing, due to his minority in Parliament and also due to the lack of Centrão or an evangelical support group. There are already political analysts predicting that, in the face of aggressive opposition, if Javier Milei fulfills what he promised and cuts public services, he will not finish his term.

In the case of Brazil, the weakening of presidentialism in the face of rising semi-parliamentaryism, with the right occupying high-ranking positions in the State apparatus, as well as concessions to the market and its media in terms of zero deficit and fiscal balance, point to a future uncertain and worrying. With Jair Bolsonaro ineligible, Bolsonarism is looking for a new leader to occupy its political space, which should not remain empty for long.

*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). [https://amzn.to/3sQ7Qn3]


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