Hundreds of exuberant demonstrators recently gathered at Buenos Aires’s iconic Obelisk to show their support for the enigmatic leader they lovingly refer to as “El Peluca” – the Wig. Their chants of “Peluca presidente!” resonated through the streets, as they fervently rallied behind the far-right populist, Javier Milei.
Among the boisterous crowd was Esteban Elías Lozupone, a 48-year-old taxi driver, who brought his 11-year-old daughter to witness the fervor of the pro-Milei rally. Lozupone, like millions of Argentinians, is captivated by the prospect of Milei winning the upcoming presidential election, believing that his anti-establishment economic policies could rescue Argentina from its current financial turmoil. Milei’s radical proposals, such as the abolition of the central bank and the implementation of dollarization, have appealed to those desperate for change. Polls indicate that Milei holds a narrow lead over his opponent, the centrist finance minister Sergio Massa, whose Peronist administration is widely blamed for the country’s economic crisis.
However, as election day approaches, concerns about potential fraud have emerged, largely fueled by Milei’s campaign. Supporters, like Esteban Elías Lozupone, have embraced conspiracy theories surrounding the first round of voting, suggesting that the election may have been tainted. These theories lack concrete evidence, resembling the instances of misinformation and conspiracy peddling witnessed during the elections in the United States and Brazil.
The parallels between Milei and right-wing populists such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro are striking. Prior to the 2020 US election, Trump made numerous false claims about the integrity of the vote, refusing to concede defeat and falsely asserting that the election had been stolen. Bolsonaro, too, undermined the reliability of Brazil’s electronic voting system before the 2022 election, subsequently rejecting the results after losing to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In both cases, the unfounded allegations of fraud provoked violence and attempts to overturn the election results.
Milei seems to follow a similar script in Argentina. Senior members of his party, Libertad Avanza, recently filed a petition demanding transparency and legality in the electoral process. They accused the gendarmerie, Argentina’s military police responsible for ensuring security during elections, of engaging in massive fraud during the first round. However, these allegations lack substantiating evidence. Nevertheless, Milei’s party called for the involvement of the navy and air force in ensuring a fair and secure election, raising concerns about the potential consequences.
The prevalence of conspiracy theories and fabricated claims of electoral fraud reflects Milei’s strategy to mobilize his far-right base. By targeting corruption and presenting himself as an honorable outsider battling against a deceitful political elite, Milei resonates with his supporters. However, his efforts to delegitimize the electoral process cast an ominous shadow over the future of Argentine democracy.
While experts do not believe Milei possesses the same level of support and influence as Trump or Bolsonaro to forcefully overturn the election results, concerns remain. The lack of surprise element, coupled with the vigilance of Massa’s campaign, may prevent any attempt of an anti-democratic rupture. Argentina’s recent memory of a failed insurrection in neighboring Brazil has heightened awareness and caution against such possibilities.
As Argentina stands at a pivotal moment in its history, the audacity of Milei’s presidential run has brought widespread attention. The outcome of the election will not only shape the country’s economic trajectory but also test the resilience of its democratic institutions.