Argentina’s far-right grows amid the crisis

The rise of the far-right libertarian Javier Milei in Argentine politics is not so easy to explain, but it is already a reality. What do his supporters see in such a controversial figure and how is it related to a crisis of political representation?

April 19, 2023 by Julián Pilatti
Javier Milei of the Advance Freedom party has risen amid the economic and political crisis in the country.

Just three years ago, the figure of Javier Milei was met with both rejection and laughter. A large sector of Argentine politics underestimated him and at that time it seemed impossible that a verbose, violent, and misogynist person could build power.

However, in the legislative elections of 2021, Milei obtained 313,808 votes, corresponding to 17.04% of the total in the city of Buenos Aires. Since then, he has established himself as a true novelty in Argentine politics and opened a new reflection on the advance of the ultra-right in the continent and in the country.

With four months left before the “PASO” or primaries for the presidential elections, the candidate of Avanza Libertad (Advance Liberty) is showing up in all major polls: some of them place him as a third force, but others even place him as a potential winner in a run-off against a Republican Proposal (PRO, the party of former president Mauricio Macri) candidate.

The Milei phenomenon is not, however, a product of campaign marketing, but it can be noticed in the streets and in a specific sector of the youth. To underestimate this again, would be to make it worse.

According to the pollster Haime, Milei is mainly followed by lower and middle class men, and mostly by sectors below the poverty line. A real contradiction, which is a key to understanding the crisis of political representation that exists today in Argentina.

In fact, if we remember, in the 2021 elections, Milei got better results in Villa Lugano and Mataderos, poor and middle class neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, than in neighborhoods such as Recoleta or Palermo.

Not only that, but in the interior of the country, the far-right candidate is growing steadily.

In San Luis, Adolfo Rodríguez Saá himself admitted that Milei is leading in the first provincial polls, while in Mendoza, Alfredo Cornejo is trying to prevent the candidate Omar De Marchi from achieving a political alliance with a deputy who answers to Milei.

Meanwhile, in Formosa, the land governed for two decades by Peronist Gildo Insfran, the local elections will be split because at the provincial level Milei has a 30% share.

Weak government + opposition in crisis: votes for Milei

The Milei phenomenon can be understood in part by the emergence of a global far-right, first (with Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro as main referents) but also by a real crisis of representation from the “traditional politics”, so to speak.

The successive economic crises and social instability that the country has been experiencing since the end of 2015, could be another reason why a large part of the population began to “depoliticize” or show up with banners of “anti-politics”. Something that has not been heard strongly since the 90’s’.

Only we could clarify that back then, the rebelliousness of the youth was channeled by the left. Nowadays, it is the opposite. As journalist Pablo Stefanoni argues in his latest book, “Rebellion has become right-wing”.

In this sense, the candidate of Avanza Libertad was lucid in not agreeing with some PRO candidates, such as the former president Macri, or with Patricia Bullrich herself. In this way, Milei still has the power to maintain his “anti-(political) caste” profile, despite the fact that he has been a national deputy for the last two years.

On the other hand, the internal crisis of Together for Change, Macri’s coalition, which is more ideologically aligned to the extreme liberalism that Milei proposes, played in his favor. The fact that Macri ended up withdrawing his candidacy was another push for the outsiders, not to mention that in his eagerness for the presidency, Horacio Rodriguez Larreta enabled concurred elections that weakened figures such as Bullrich, the most extreme within the PRO.

The rise of Milei in Argentine politics is not so easy to explain, beyond these hypotheses, but it is already a reality. Starting from this place helps the left emerge from its paralysis, which does nothing but continue to benefit the most violent right-wingers that we have seen since the return of democracy.

Undoubtedly, the lack of concrete policies from the current government feeds that uneasiness that ends up swelling Milei’s ranks. But the quality of politics is not the sole responsibility of the government. Meanwhile, the monsters advance.

This piece first appeared in Spanish at ARG Medios.