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ARGENTINA | 09-11-2023 10:21

Javier Milei’s followers stir up spectre of fraud on social networks

Echoing the elections of Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Argentina now becomes the latest country to battle unfounded electoral fraud claims.

Without proof, or any complaints filed, claims of electoral fraud have been shared tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of times on social media accounts backing Argentina's ultra-libertarian presidential candidate Javier Milei.

Like Donald Trump, defeated in the United States’ elections of 2020, or Brazil's far-right Jair Bolsonaro who lost the vote last year, outsider Milei has himself helped fuel suspicion with a "narrative of fraud" ahead of the November 19 run-off in which he will face economy minister Sergio Massa.

On pro-Milei sites, videos of torn ballot papers or provisional counts that differ from the final result – which election officials say is quite common – have sought to cast doubt on the process following the October 22 first round.

"Fraud exists. I feel sorry for the people who are going to vote and people like me who spend all day monitoring and looking after each vote," says a TikTok user in tears in one video, who denounces irregularities in Mendoza Province. 

"A vote not counted is already fraud," exclaims a journalist on the streaming channel Neura, in another clip that went viral.

Anti-establishment Milei came second out of five candidates in the first voting round, garnering nearly 30 percent of the vote behind Massa with 36.7 percent.

AFP Fact Check has disproven the veracity of many of the images being shared.

Some were spread by right-wing political consultant Fernando Cerimedo, who is also known to have disseminated unproven claims of cheating in the Brazilian election won last year by leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Recently, Milei's spokesman Guillermo Francos proffered: "I will not say that there was fraud" in the first round of voting in Argentina, for a lack of concrete evidence.

Yet Milei this week, in an interview on YouTube, claimed there had been "irregularities of such magnitude that they cast doubt on the result."

 

'Malicious delegitimisation'

Last weekend, a march against alleged electoral fraud gathered a few hundred Milei supporters in Buenos Aires, though images on social networks showed mass gatherings from other, unrelated events.

A new demonstration is planned for this Sunday, a week before the run-off takes place.

Amid the onslaught, Argentina's National Electoral Chamber, which interprets voting legislation, issued a statement denouncing "unfounded claims of fraud that misinform public opinion and undermine democracy."

It said that in the 40 years since Argentina returned to democracy, there have been "33 national electoral processes of various types, all with accepted, recognised results and indisputable legitimacy."

For the first voting round, the CNE received 105 reports of suspected wrongdoing – a number consistent with other elections, the agency said.

To date, no political party or individual has filed any formal complaint concerning fraud or irregularities, the CNE added.

Alejandro Tullio, Argentina's national director of elections from 2001 to 2016, told AFP the "fraud narrative" was nothing new but rather a phenomenon "already observed in several countries."

Its purpose, he said, is "to undermine the credibility of an election, or its supervisory authorities... [a] malicious delegitimisation of results."

"Elections are complex processes and explaining their procedures can be tedious," Tullio said, warning that "it is easier to circulate a simplistic and fanciful legend than to acknowledge results that, however remarkable, may be disappointing.”

 

‘Typical alibi’

According to political analyst Carlos Fara, it is a well-known strategy to "question the rules of the game if they did not favour the complainant."

"We saw it with Bolsonaro, with Trump, and now we see it with Milei," he told AFP.

"This is the typical alibi: if I won it's despite the fraud, if I lost it's because of the fraud," said Fara.

Political newcomer Milei burst onto the scene vowing to dollarise the struggling Argentine economy, get rid of the Central Bank and slash public spending, firing up a population desperate for change.

He is anti-abortion and pro-gun, and delivered his message with props such as a powered-up chainsaw he took on the campaign trail.

Milei is an admirer of former US president Donald Trump and had a son of Bolsonaro support him in his campaign headquarters on election night.

He alleges that leftist Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is instigating a campaign against him coordinated via a team of electoral strategists. 

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by Martín Raschinsky & Tomás Viola, AFP

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