Even before the results of the October 22 Argentine election came in the campaign of Javier Milei, who finished second, already claimed to have received reports of stolen ballots. A similar strategy was also employed by both Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil during their countries’ respective presidential elections.
Although all three countries have their fair share of differences, there are numerous similarities between Milei, Bolsonaro and Trump, representing right-wing extreme ideals such as challenging democratic institutions. This is evident in Argentina, where Milei challenged the Central Bank, and in the US and Brazil, where Trump and Bolsonaro confronted Congress and the Supreme Court in their respective countries.
In Argentina, political analysts attribute the flourishing of the far-right movement to the ongoing economic and political crises. For instance, Marcos Novaro, director of the Center for Political Investigations (CIPOL), points to these crises as the main reason for Javier Milei’s growing popularity. “I would say that Milei’s popularity is increasing primarily due to a series of governments that have been unable to resolve the economic situation, resulting in a chronic stagnation of the Argentine economy that we have experienced since at least 2011,” Novaro stated in an interview with The Sundial Press. In his view, the current government’s struggles in addressing these issues, combined with corruption allegations, strengthen Milei’s rhetoric, especially against politicians.
For Cintia Flores, 30, a real estate agent in Argentina who voted for Milei, the main problem in her country is “government corruption,” which she perceives as the cause of other problems, such as poverty, limited education, insecurity, and distrust. “In my opinion, when the same political party governs for 40 years, they amass so much power that it becomes very difficult to challenge them,” she told The Sundial Press.
The outsiders vs. the establishment
Due to Argentina’s long-lasting problems and the incompetence of its “traditional” politicians, both from the left (represented by Cristina Kirchner and Alberto Fernández) and right (Mauricio Macri), Milei’s speech against the political establishment resonates with a considerable number of Argentinians. He garnered 29.98 percent of the vote on October 22.
This anti-establishment rhetoric is similar to the one adopted by Bolsonaro and Trump in their victorious campaigns. Novaro classifies these politicians as representatives of a right-wing movement that breaks the connections with “traditional conservative forces or the traditional centre-right.” These candidates present themselves as popular leaders against “the elites, traditional leadership, and corrupt institutions.”
For instance, Juan Pablo Marengo, 25, an Argentine architecture student, is one of the voters who sees the right-wing libertarian politician as the only one who can effectively combat corruption. Marengo explained to The Sundial Press that he primarily voted for Mileibecause “he is the only candidate who doesn’t have a tainted history in politics.” Even though Milei is perceived as an outsider by his supporters, he was elected to Congress in 2021 and served as an advisor to the governor of the province of Tucumán during the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 90s.
Who dares take a risk?
Milei has used the hopelessness caused by Argentina’s economic crisis as fuel for his speeches, presenting himself as the one who could solve Argentina’s problems. Similarly, Bolsonaro centred his 2018 campaign on Brazil’s corrupt political system, presenting himself as a legendary leader and the sole able to solve the problem. Two years prior, Trump adopted anti-immigrant policies as the basis of his campaign, claiming that he was “the only thing standing between the American dream and total anarchy, madness and chaos.” The campaign strategy used by all three portrayed them as saviours of their respective nations.
Julia Almeida, a researcher from the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil, explained that “Milei engages with a sense of transformation and advocates a message of hope.” According to her, who is currently in Argentina conducting fieldwork on the elections, Milei suggests “that things can improve and that Argentina can prosper as it did in the early 20th century, particularly resonating with the younger generation.” In such a scenario, voters usually justify their choice for Milei as a “risk” they are willing to take to pull their country out of the crisis.
For instance, Flores – who does not consider herself a follower of Javier Milei – said in her interview that although she does not believe he is the only one who can solve Argentina’s situation. “It’s worth trying something different, someone who promises to act differently with new ideas. The country is suffering so much that I consider it worth taking a risk with the unknown,” she reasoned, referring to Milei.
Marengo stated something similar about taking risks: “I understand that some of his ideas may be somewhat extreme and may affect some people, but I am willing to make a change.”
Social media and electoral fraud disinformation
Aside from their anti-establishment rhetoric, Milei, Bolsonaro, and Trump also share a common approach in how they use their social media to address their supporters. Inspired by Trump, Bolsonaro pioneered in Brazil the use of social media to communicate directly with his voters, barely using traditional campaign mediums, such as radio and television.
Not only does Milei apply a similar strategy, but he also has the same social media campaign advisor as Bolsonaro in 2018. On TikTok, Milei is significantly ahead of Minister of the Economy, Sergio Massa, who is running against him in the elections. Milei boasts 1.5 million followers, whereas Massa has less than a quarter with 240 thousand.
Almeida highlighted that a common characteristic of the far-right movement is the “consistent social media strategy for spreading fake news that encourages networks of hatred and political radicalization.” In line with these far-right strategies, all three politicians have spread disinformation about electoral fraud, insisting that their countries’ electoral systems were corrupted. Bolsonaro, for instance, consistently asserted that election officials could manipulate results while counting votes “in secret”. In 2022, Trump persisted in making a series of claims about supposed mass voter fraud.
In the US and Brazil, these claims were weaponized by Trump and Bolsonaro, respectively, to incite violent assaults on government institutions. On January 6, 2021, a mob of Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol Building following his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, attempting to thwart the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Two years later, on January 8, 2023, supporters of Bolsonaro similarly attacked Brazil’s government buildings in an attempt to overthrow the recently-elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. After Argentina’s presidential primary elections, Milei claimed he was the victim of electoral fraud. Nevertheless, none of them presented any decisive proof to support their claims.
The second round of the presidential elections in Argentina will take place on November 19. According to the latest Clarín poll, Javier Milei has an advantage over Sergio Massa. The candidates are polling at 41.6 percent and 40.4 percent, respectively. For Almeida, if Milei were to win, “the entire realm of ideas and forms of social interaction that have characterised far-right movements in Latin America in the 21st century would gain even more traction.”
All in all, the similarities between the rise of the far-right in Argentina, Brazil and the United States shed light on the potential directions Argentina’s political landscape could follow. In line with current American and Brazilian political trends, polarisation appears to be a growing challenge that Argentinians will need to learn to navigate, regardless of whether Javier Milei claims victory on election day or not.