Martina Rodriguez looks at the challenges and lessons arising from the recent Argentine legislative elections
Argentina had its national legislative elections on 14th November this year, and half of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and a third of the seats in the Senate were renewed. The two main political parties, Mauricio Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio and Cristina Kirchner’s Frente de Todos, were the main contenders in this battle. However, there were other inspiring and unpleasant surprises. For the City of Buenos Aires district, the Trotskyist left won seats after 20 years of Parliamentary inactivity, and became the third national political force, and the far right Libertarian Party got its first MPs in history.
Overall, Peronismo ended up losing a big percentage of the constituency to a mix of neoliberal and libertarian candidates. In this sense, the elections were bad news for the country, and the results showed discontent with the ruling party from different sectors of 50% of Argentine society, leaving the government in a difficult situation, with a loss in the trust from the majority. However, there was a small -yet highly celebrated – change between the primary elections and the second round, where Peronismo turned around many votes after doing intensive campaign work and not relenting in the fight.
Of a total of 257 seats, Juntos por el Cambio now occupies 117, Frente de Todos and its allies 117, the left 4 and liberals 4. Frente de Todos (FdT) went from having 120 seats in the Lower House to 117, while Juntos por el Cambio renewed 60 seats, also leaving it at 117 – although allies for FdT might swing to 118 vs 116. The main opposition coalition managed to grow in the Senate and went from 35% to 43% while Frente de Todos fell from 57% to 48% of the seats. This leaves them without a quorum of their own, something that has never happened under a Peronist government.
We could interpret the results from many different angles, although I think there are three main lessons to take from these elections: the historical victory of the left, the worrying expansion of the libertarian far right, and the challenges Peronism faces ahead of the rest of its term.
Frente de Izquierda, the Left Front, has increased its block and had an historical run in these elections. The party hadn’t had a leftist MP elected for the City of Buenos Aires for twenty years and Myriam Bregman broke the spell, claiming a huge victory. The left is finally gaining some ground and has become a substantial player in ‘formal’ party politics.
Traditionally, the Argentine Trotskyist left has been sectarian, intellectually elitist and white-dominated, and could not gain the attachment the majority of the working-class had with Peronism. This, however, has been slowly changing as they’ve remodelled their campaigns, appealing to the most vulnerable sectors of society with formidable grassroots activism. This could be exemplified with the victory of newly elected MP Alejandro Vilca, a young working binman who dedicated his seat to the systematically oppressed and the resistance of indigenous people.
Nevertheless, the left still represents a minority of the population, and, at present, has no realistic expectations of holding any positions of power. Moreover, they do not see any current government or governmental policy in the globe that represents their ideals. They also see Peronism as a political enemy, as they have different ideological compositions.
Peronism, as a transversal party, is capable of flirting with the left in many debates, but the Front refuses to negotiate. This could potentially become a problem when fighting neoliberalism and the re-emergence of far right movements. If the left is split in two – or more – how will we safeguard the votes and secure government? How will we make sure we don’t gift the office to the dangers of neo-facism?
These are very real, current menaces that Argentina – and the rest of the region, and the world – is having to combat. The fear of a rising libertarian wave should be of concern for us all. The far right Libertarians had a very successful first-ever election. With strong influence from Bolsonaro and Trump, they’ve won parliamentary seats with a hate-fuelled campaign.
Libertarians offered a carbon copy of Trumpian ideals: aggression, misogyny, xenophobia, lgbt-phobia, all-kinds of negation-ism and an untenable anarcho-capitalist anti-state ideology. Milei and his party pride themselves on not being part of the political elite, all while campaigning for positions in Parliament.
Their core ideas are fundamentally free-market based and focus on wild, ungoverned capitalism. Essentially, they are unwavering defenders of the lie of meritocracy in whichever context. Women get paid less for the same job? Poor people don’t have enough opportunities? Their fault for not working hard enough. We can see the parallels with libertarians anywhere in the world, as they are cut from the same cloth. Climate deniers, gun lovers, and negationists – in this case, of the last Civic-Military Dictatorship that devastated the country in the 70s – they are vile opposers of equality, social justice and welfare policies.
What is worrying is that, initially, Milei was seen as a joke candidate, as a showman who would parade from one news show to the next, shouting at panelists and being violent to anyone who would debate him, particularly women. Again, does this sound familiar? We’ve underestimated the power of these macho showmen everywhere in the world. We chose not to give any political entity to the Bolsonaros, the Trumps, the Borises, the Kasts. But they were given airtime and they’ve crept in among very volatile demographics.
What is most problematic is the popularity among a sector of the young – mostly white and male – working class. So, what is the appeal? The resurgence of conservatism has been attributed to recent popular uprisings of feminism and socialism, but the reality is that Argentina is suffering severe economic adversity. Four years of hardcore neoliberal policies under Macri’s rule, followed by a pandemic that devastated most of the world’s economies, health care systems, social fabric and job market, have left people resentful.
The country needs a meaningful economic recovery, but how is the government going to achieve that with a hung Parliament? How are the current left wing parties going to translate the discontent into policies? How are they going to protect power? How will we avoid a fragmentation of the left that could allow the apparatuses of the far right to permeate the popular discourse?
Peronism understood this context of adversity between the primary and the second round, and they got to work. They did not underestimate the results and they walked the streets, hearing what the electorate had to say. Kirchnerismo understood the message and is deploying all its tools to demonstrate leadership isn’t dead.
On 10th December, Lula da Silva and Pepe Mujica joined Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez and Vice President Cristina Kirchner in a packed Plaza de Mayo during the celebration of the ‘Day of Democracy’. They addressed the crowds of militants reminiscing about the times of regional unity that Brazil and Uruguay’s former presidents, together with Hugo Chavez and Nestor Kirchner, fostered in the last decade. Cristina Kirchner recalled that historical moment of Latin American prosperity, economic growth, social inclusion and job creation through the strengthening of national industries, and national and regional sovereignty in decision making.
During his visit in Argentina, Lula and Mujica also joined a talk with the National Trade Union Centre. Lula said that he would foster the workers’ movement were he to become president in the next elections, asserting that together we are stronger, and separated we are frail.
So, despite the scary scenario, there is still hope. Lula is ahead in the polls and Chile’s general elections on 19th December could be pivotal in maintaining the dream of another Patria Grande (Great Homeland), if Gabriel Boric secures a victory.
But it is also up to the movements on the ground, at the activist level, to not abandon the fight, to triple their efforts. We cannot allow the right to keep growing by letting our movements splinter. The more we become divisive, the more and more they will take from us. We must approach these hard times ahead with transversality and intersectionality as a key tool.
There are contradictions and conflicts that must be faced once and for all – the diversity of political positions within the left is often overwhelming. The leftist sectors of the popular movements must fight the conservatism of their own parties at all costs.
We clearly cannot have any socialist/Peronist/leftist party leaders that do not threaten the establishment, or do not defend the rights of the oppressed. We can never abandon our principles for the sake of being in power. But how are we ever going to build any mass movement if we do not take into account the differences? The inside battles are the ones we must fight the hardest so we can build a long-lasting fortress against the neoliberal and neo-fascist forces that try to topple our movements of resistance.
Martina Rodriguez is an Argentinian living in London. She is a Spanish teacher at United Voices of the World union, a freelance writer and a co-founder of Ni Una Menos UK and the Argentina Solidarity Campaign.
Image: Critina Kirchner. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/31582298@N08/29896379962/. Author: Asamblea Nacional del Ecuador, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
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