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FIT flags on demonstration, Buenos Aires 2017

FIT flags on demonstration, Buenos Aires 2017. Photo: Gaston Cuello / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, license linked at bottom of article

Argentina’s congressional elections have delivered a breakthrough for the radical left, but dangers remain, reports Jonathan Maunders

Last weekend’s mid-term congressional elections delivered a seismic shock to the Argentine political establishment, potentially marking the end of decades of Peronist and neoliberal control.

The elections saw President Alberto Fernández’s Peronist Front for Everyone Coalition lose its congress majority for the first time since democracy was restored in 1983, and lose the key Buenos Aries province to a neoliberal coalition. Peronism is a distinctively Argentine political formation, nationalistic with right-wing tendencies, but also historically providing pro-labour policies. In recent decades, it has swung between the centrist neoliberal and the mildly social-democratic.

Meanwhile, one of the big stories of the elections was the rise of the Trotskyist Leftist Worker Front (FIT) who won the third largest share of the national vote, an unprecedented result for the Argentine left.

However, much of the local election coverage has been dominated by the emergence of the far-right Liberty Advances party, led by anti-vax, climate-change denier Javier Milei. The Bolsonaro-like figure, who is seen as sympathetic to the 1976-1983 dictatorship, was able to pull votes from the conservative establishment, securing an unlikely 17% of votes in Buenos Aries city.

Having lost ground to both the radical left and the far right, the elections have left the Argentine political establishment reeling, amid surging anger from the country’s voters.

Why has this happened?

Many in Argentina have grown increasingly unhappy with the country’s economic situation, with years of disastrous neoliberal economic policies heightened by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Argentina has been in recession since 2018, and while President Fernandez, only elected in 2019, initially made efforts to reignite the economy, the pandemic soon intervened with the country’s GDP dropping by 9.9% in 2020, while inflation and poverty levels are both sitting at over 40%.

This trend saw Fernandez’s Peronist coalition enduring a brutal loss in September’s primaries, losing out to his predecessor, Mauricio Macri’s neoliberal coalition. If that defeat was a warning for the Peronist coalition, this one is a warning to the whole political establishment.

In their anger, Argentine voters are increasingly turning away from the traditional political groupings for answers. The fact that the Trotskyist Leftist Worker Front are now Argentina’s third biggest political force shows that many now genuinely see the radical left as the answer to the country’s economic problems.

What next?

With the overall make-up of congress having now swung in favour of the right, it is likely that the under-fire President Fernandez will look to make deals with Macri’s neoliberal coalition in an effort to cling to power.

It is vital that the Argentine left opposes such moves and keeps pressure on the government to introduce progressive policies to lift millions out of poverty and create jobs. Meanwhile, whilst the radical left rightly celebrates its election gains, Javier Milei’s far-right party was also able to profit from the rising anger directed at the Argentine political establishment, scoring many unlikely polling victories.

The left must firmly oppose Milei’s politics and ensure that it is they who are seen to be presenting the true alternative to the disastrous policies of the Argentine establishment.

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