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 Mandatory (PASO) elections, when the ultra-right-wing 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 of the population called 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 qualify as an “aberration” to social justice.
Evidently, in two months until the general elections, many things can happen, including that voters assume the risks represented by Milei and Patricia Bullrich, with their fascist threats.
With a 69% turnout, the majority votes of those who dared to vote in the midst of apathy and indifference, were distributed in thirds -as many predicted-, with a triumph of La Libertad Avanza, of Javier Milei, with 30%. No poll had previously given him such a high percentage. The libertarian party won seven million votes.
The popular verdict was overwhelming: it expresses 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 percent that Milei and Bullrich with her Puntos de la Cambio (JxC) accumulated, in separate forces.
The shift to the right of the electorate, of the planet, the polarization that strengthens the right are facts. None of this entails a sort of mathematical opportunism to embrace the flags of the adversaries. Bullrich’s program is unfeasible in Argentina without repression. Milei’s program adds the unfeasibility of its emblematic measures: dollarization, sale of organs, vouchers for education. He adds the institutional weakness it would have, he adds.
The PASO mandatory primaries were intended to determine who will be the candidates of the different parties in the elections of Sunday, October 22 and to find out whether the far-right phenomenon had taken root in a country which, until now, had been moving in a democracy between liberal-conservatism and the centrist amalgam (sometimes right-wing, sometimes progressive and even revolutionary) that Peronism or Justicialism represents.
For Peronism, it is a historical humiliation to go from being the country’s armored majority to the third of a country of thirds. Undoubtedly, the lousy government of Alberto Fernández ended up “committing suicide” to the party of Perón and Evita. But if we put the magnifying glass on what happened, the election of the neoliberal coalition is as catastrophic as that of Peronism, taking into account that only two years ago the polls showed that they were guaranteed the next government, with 40% of the preferences. The sad spectacle of a stark internal campaign, took its toll on them.
In view of the dismal electoral performance of the ruling party, some debates are still pending, such as whether Axel Kiciloff’s decision -who won again in the province of Buenos Aires- was a wise one, or whether, instead of betting on retaining that crucial district, he should have invested his political capital in running for the presidency.
It sounds logical, in the face of the accomplished fact, to wonder if it will be profitable in the national elections to bet the Buenos Aires result on the candidacy of a Minister of Economy who does not give a damn about taming inflation, protected by a President -Alberto Fernandez-, who is considered the “assassin” of Peronism.
Both Milei and his party came in first, winning in several provinces, leaving behind the two coalitions that won the last three elections. None of them reached 30 percent nationally. The neoliberals of JxC were barely one point above an exploited government, which shows as a letter of introduction more than 120% inflation this year.
When the differences between projections and reality are as extreme as in this case, doubts arise 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 predicted Milei the winner and twelve gave him third place.
There is an important portion of society for which this man’s extravagance, his verbal and gestural violence, his anti-political discourse, fits exactly 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 socioeconomic strata, the magazine adds.
Milei is a promoter of the sale and purchase of organs, the free use of firearms, the privatization of education and the closing 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 nor are they interested in knowing what the candidate says he/she thinks or will do. What they are interested in is that figure on television who shouts, explodes and insults, and transmits sensations close to what a good part of the population feels.
The Situation Picture
The murder of an 11 year old girl in Lanús (a district of Buenos Aires) and the suspension of the acts and closings of the electoral campaign, are a huge and symbolic proof that insecurity is installed and is part of the painful reality, but the parties give the impression of not having anything to say or do in front of this collective drama.
Last Thursday, in a square adjacent to the Buenos Aires Obelisk, some militants were discussing about the uselessness of voting, when the City police intervened. Several were arrested and thrown to the ground, face down. Knees of the police squeezed the neck of Facundo Molares, a left-wing militant, 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 taken into account that Sunday 13 was an electoral call in the midst of a deep economic-social crisis, in a country immersed in a more than critical situation. The permanent debt maturities are a real sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of all Argentines.
Inflation, which by far exceeds 100% per year, is a pain that the vast majority must endure on a daily basis. Poverty spreads throughout the country: it closed 2022 with 39.2%, which reveals that 11,465,599 people suffer from it, according to official figures, although other measurements place it above 40%.
Even more serious is the fact that one out of every five white-collar workers receives an income below the poverty line. It is also serious the detail provided by the UNICEF report which indicates that at the end of 2022, two out of every three children in Argentina (66%) were part of households with poverty income.
This year, due to recession, a drop of 2.5% with respect to the year 2022 is foreseen. The fact is that during the time the economy was growing, poverty and inequality also grew. There was income redistribution, but it was in favor of the powerful. By the way, there are not many precedents of elections carried out in similar frameworks. And it is striking that the top presidential candidate of the ruling party is the Minister of Economy and the person responsible for these policies.
How to add votes?
Now, Bullrich and the ruling party’s candidate Sergio Massa face different challenges. For Peronism, it is to mobilize more voters, to scratch up votes in the territories with militants and strikers. And surely to propose itself as an alternative to two right-wing economic and cultural rivals. At first sight, Milei subtracted votes from the Unión por la Patria (UxP) but the total of 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 makes 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 that 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 city, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, in the internal elections and will represent the traditional right wing.
After the PASO, Milei became the main favorite, with 30.06% of the votes. The primaries, in which voting is mandatory, are also free and a testing ground with respect to the presidential elections, in which the vote of punishment and anger is more important. That will be the hope of the continuity represented by Massa, Minister of Economy of the current government and candidate of Unión por la Patria, a party that came in third position and obtained 27.3% of the votes.
It is no longer enough to shout “Viva Perón”: it is necessary to update the speeches, to understand what is happening in a country in crisis, to understand the needs of the people, the poverty, unemployment, hunger: the daily tranquility and to make ends meet, without dying in the effort.
Between now and October, when Argentines wake up every day, the dinosaurs dragging them down will still be there.