A Historic Defeat for Populism, but With A Warning

Argentina’s midterm elections show a historic loss for Peronism, but a new, anti-system candidate is on the rise.

Taru Anniina Liikanen

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Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

A major economic crisis. Rising prices, in everything from food to housing. A disappointing response to the pandemic, with shows of clear disregard of the COVID-19 guidelines (such as the first lady’s birthday party in the middle of a nationwide lockdown)

A populist leader pontificating on television, claiming he didn’t lose an election he was clearly beaten in.

Does this sound familiar?

Yesterday, Argentina’s ruling Peronist coalition took a historic beating in the country’s midterm election, which renewed half the seats in Congress and 1/3 of the Senate. For the first time in 38 years, Peronists lost the Senate. For the first time in the history of the movement, there’s another political force of equal weight, the Juntos coalition that governed the country between 2015 and 2019, that’s able to compete against Peronism for the popular vote and not fall apart after its first electoral defeat.

But at the same time, a new type of populist movement is surging: the libertarian, far-right movement of economist Javier Miley got 17% of the vote in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (Juntos got 47% and Peronism 25%). At his campaign HQ the crowd, many of them young, frustrated men, wore t-shirts with the GOP catchphrase “Don’t tread on me” written in English, and chanted against dark-skinned people. Some people called themselves proud fascists.

In a country with a long history of military dictatorships in the 20th century, being openly, unapologetically far-right is a major shock. But it’s one the established political parties are still failing to take seriously.

Populism vs. Institutionalism

I often feel like Argentina is a lab experiment in populism, and there’s a lot we can learn from the past and present of the Peronist movement.

But what is Peronism, really? Is it right-wing? Peronism was a well-known admirer of Mussolini, after all. Is it left-wing? He was also known for leftist initiatives, like support for trade unions and giving…

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Taru Anniina Liikanen

Stand-up comedian and recovering political ghostwriter. Finnish by birth, porteña at heart. Bad jokes frequent.