After nearly every pre-election poll had the far-right candidate Javier Milei finishing first, it was the Peronist and current Economy Minister, Sergio Massa, who surprisingly came out ahead in last Sunday’s presidential elections in Argentina. Nor was the result particularly close, with Massa finishing with 36 percent as compared to Milei’s 30 percent. The coalition of the traditional right, Juntos por El Cambio (or Together for Change), launched by former president Mauricio Macri, placed third — and well below the result it had anticipated. The results mean a runoff election will be held between Milei and Massa on November 19.
Despite major media coverage of his candidacy — approximately on the level of Trump’s bid in 2016 — Milei failed to improve on his vote totals from the open primaries in late September, which effectively serve as a barometer for the political moods in the country. The Peronist Massa, in contrast, attracted an additional 3.2 million votes since then, absorbing votes from both his center-left primary challenger and the Juntos por El Cambio coalition.
The election results appear at odds with the widespread rejection of the governing Peronist coalition, of which Massa is among the most visible representatives. The administration of President Alberto Fernandez and Vice President Cristina Kirchner is linked, in the eyes of millions, to the erosion of living standards, runaway inflation, and major hikes in utility fees. Yet in the end, more voters decided that Milei would not improve the country’s state of affairs.
A Left Alternative
Not all voters chose to back the lesser evil, however. An important, if still modest, number of young people, workers, women, and LGBTQ+ people gave their support to Myriam Bregman, the presidential candidate Workers Left Front — Unity (FIT-U), an electoral coalition of four Trotskyist parties. Bregman took just under 3 percent of the vote nationally, or around 850,000 votes. But in the capital city of Buenos Aires and in provinces like Jujuy and Chubut that have been the site of major popular struggles, the FIT-U’s congressional candidates took between 5 and 8 percent of the vote.
The results mean that the anticapitalist left earned a fifth congressional representative for the first time ever. Cristian Castillo, a leader in the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS), will become a deputy representing the Province of Buenos Aires, joining four other Workers Left Front deputies who were elected in the 2021 midterms.
Bregman stood out among the five presidential contenders as the sole candidate representing the country’s working class and poor majority and standing up to the interests of the one percent, agri-business and the foreign multinationals. She was the only candidate, for example, to reject the country’s multi-billion-dollar agreement with the IMF and call for the nonpayment of Argentina’s debt, which analysts like Claudio Katz have called illegal and unpayable. She was the only voice against the extractivist practices that are contaminating the country’s waters. And she was the only one willing to denounce Israel’s brutal bombing campaign and blockade of Gaza and declare her solidarity with Palestinians under fire.
Milei’s unexpectedly poor performance was in part because of a series of missteps by the so-called libertarian candidate and his allies in recent weeks. Lilia Lemoine, a candidate for Congress representing Milei’s far-right coalition, suggested men should be allowed to “renounce” paternity for unwanted children and thereby avoid child support payments. It was a proposal so outrageous that even the traditional Right had to reject it. “She has shit for brains,” responded one Juntos por el Cambio politician when asked about Lemoine’s plan.
Milei, meanwhile, seriously overreached in declaring his intention to privatize the country’s train system recently. “When we [in Argentina] had the best train system in the world, it was run by the British,” said the right-wing former journalist, apparently oblivious to the country’s long and painful experience with privatizations, felt most heavily by the poor. The Peronists were able to effectively take advantage of Milei’s miscalculation, pointing out the enormous rise in bus and train fares that would result from privatization; from around US$0.20 currently, fares would rise to over US$3 per ticket, said Massa’s campaign. With the minimum wage at only around $18 per day, a rise like this would be devastating.
The Wrong Way to Fight the Right
That’s not to say the Peronists have fully rehabilitated their image. Massa’s 36 percent of the vote is still far behind the 48 percent that current president Alberto Fernandez earned just four years ago. Support for the Fernandez administration meanwhile hovers around just 16 percent.
The country’s deep cost-of-living crisis due in large part to the government’s agreements with the IMF have eroded the traditional base of support for the Peronists. Inflation, the devaluation of the currency, and steep hikes in utility fees have meant severe cuts to the living standards of working-class people. The country’s poverty rate stands at 40 percent, a 10 percent increase since 2015. One-third of children regularly go hungry. Millions of young workers labor without benefits, job protection, or union representation. In this context, large sections of working people and the poor have abandoned the government of Fernandez-Kirchner and increasingly, have developed illusions in right-wing, pseudo-populists like Javier Milei, who promises to challenge the country’s ruling “caste” as he calls it and transform the economy.
Massa’s strategy of positioning himself as the lesser evil to the ultra-neoliberal Milei may have temporarily paid off, but as Myriam Bregman repeatedly pointed out during her campaign, this is no way to defeat the Far Right. In fact, she noted, the Right is now stronger than it has been in decades as a result of the Peronist government’s policies. Milei’s La Libertad Avanza (Liberty Advances) coalition won representation in Argentina’s upper house for the first time ever, earning eight seats in the Senate, while adding at least an additional 30 seats to its total in the lower house. And the possibility that Milei wins the November runoff and takes the presidency is not out of the question. Meanwhile, Massa has made countless overtures to the country’s Right, calling for a “national unity government” with sections of Juntos por el Cambio and inviting figures like Gerardo Morales — the governor who directed the heavy repression of teachers and indigenous activists in the province of Jujuy — to join his administration.
The Right is defeated only by the mobilization and self-organization of the working class and oppressed sectors and the development of a political alternative that can challenge the capitalist system and its cycles of crisis. Only by breaking from the logic of the “lesser evil” and fighting for this alternative can we end the system of poverty, hunger, oppression and ecological disaster.