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On the 19th of November 2023, Argentina will head to the polls to definitively choose the successor to Mr. Alberto Fernandez as the President of the country. The country has found itself in turbulent times, with inflation at well over 100% and poverty hovering around the 40% mark. Whoever wins the race to the Casa Rosada faces a significant challenge ahead, with a dissatisfied population growing impatient with politicians who seem incapable of delivering on their promises. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Mr. Fernandez declared that he would not be seeking reelection, meaning that when the votes are all tallied, Argentina will definitely have a new President.
As expected, the 22nd October Elections narrowed down the race to two candidates: Sergio Massa won around 36% of the vote while Javier Milei garnered around 30% of the vote. The current Minister of Economy, Sergio Massa, was always seen as a strong contender. While he received acclaim for averting a complete economic collapse, he has also faced criticism due to the country’s decreasing foreign reserves.
Indeed, with the discourse on economic issues being at the forefront of the elections, Mr. Massa will certainly feel that he is best equipped to be at the helm of the Argentine Republic.
However, a vehement dissenter from the previous statement would be Javier Milei, the candidate for La Libertad Avanza. He’s often drawn comparisons to leaders like Brazil’s Former President Jair Bolsonaro and U.S. Former President Donald Trump, comparisons that he has willingly embraced.
WHO IS JAVIER MILEI?
Mr. Milei has quite an interesting profile, having studied economics and working in the finance sector up until his election to Argentina’s Congress in 2021. Sporting sideburns and a haircut that would not be out of place in the pin-up poster of a glossy 80s magazine, Mr. Milei playing in Rolling Stone’s cover band in his youth seems rather poetically fitting. In going against the grain and separating himself from Argentina’s traditional political elite, Mr. Milei has found widespread support throughout the country that may very well propel him to victory in October.
Similar to Trump and Bolsonaro, Mr Milei has been described as far-right and ultraconservative, while he has shown an affinity for the term anarcho-capitalism. One would expect that these views would be seen as political anathema in a country where Peronism was dominant for the better part of the 20th Century, yet Milei’s victory in the August primaries means Argentine voters do not seem to share that thought.
Milei has grabbed headlines for his explosive opinions which perfectly reflects his lack of interest in playing a balancing act in order to appeal to more voters. In this sense, Milei has promised to effectively blow up Argentina’s central bank and fully dollarize the economy. This will raise a lot of eyebrows in the international scene considering that Argentina recently acquired BRICS membership, an international cooperation organization that has been at the forefront of efforts to reduce the dependency of international trade on the U.S. Dollar.
Furthermore, Milei has also expressed support for opinions traditionally aligned with right-wing rhetoric such as unrestricted gun ownership and the criminalization of abortion. The candidate has also endorsed the individual right to freely sell organs, in addition to rampant privatization of state companies, pension cuts, and charging for public hospital services. Taking into account the views that Milei has publicly espoused, it is hard to imagine a more ominous outcome for the left in Argentina than a Milei victory.
STRIKING THE IRON WHILE IT’S HOT
Argentina is currently marred in economic crises and there seems to be little cause for optimism. In September 2023, inflation soared to a staggering 124%, reaching its highest point since 1991, resulting in a substantial increase in the cost of living. These exact kinds of economic downturns have been the catalysts of the proliferation of ultra-right-wing ideals that may very well translate at the ballot box. Therefore, Milei draws strong support from the youth population, predominantly men, but his appeal spans various social strata and encompasses lower-income groups as well. This is a voting base that blames the previous regimes for Argentina’s economic ills and sees Milei’s radical outlook as the only logical remedy.
A similar case was observed in the 2018 Elections in Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro rode a wave of anti-PT(Workers Party) sentiment all the way to a decisive victory. Bolsonaro had no problem disparaging the regimes of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff(who suffered impeachment in 2016), highlighting the corruption scandals that hit the country under their rule. Allegations of rampant misogyny and criticism of his record as Federal Deputy were not enough to derail Bolsonaro’s presidential bid, as he capitalized on the frustration of Brazilians with the former ruling party.
Milei may very well take a page from Bolsonaro’s book, pointing the finger at Peronism and Kirchnerism, while proffering himself as the only viable solution. It is a strategy that worked wonders in the neighbouring country after all.
Although a first-round victory always seemed to be an unlikely outcome for both candidates, Milei will fancy his chances against Massa in the second round. While Massa’s victory in the first round was unexpectedly crushing, Milei enjoyed a similar performance in the primaries, and as such, will continue his presidential bid undeterred. His firebrand persona, coupled with his provocative remarks, lend themselves well to the current age of social media campaigning during elections, as Milei is more likely to trend online than his opponents, explaining his popularity among young people.
MILEI: A HOPE FOR THE RIGHT IN SOUTH AMERICA?
The left recently wrestled back control of South America, with the victories of the likes of Lula da Silva in Brazil and Gustavo Petro in Colombia, yet victory for Milei would be undoubtedly significant for the right in South America, considering Argentina’s pull in the region. While Massa and the Peronists exceeded even their own expectations in the October polls, Milei is still very much in the running.
Javier Milei has successfully positioned himself as an anti-establishment, with his signature line, “Long live liberty dammit!” serving as a rallying call for his supporters. And he will rely on it more than ever as Argentinians head to the ballot in November to choose the next president.
I invite our readers to reflect on the following questions:
- How has Argentina’s current economic state contributed to Milei’s rise in popularity?
- How viable are Milei’s propositions as a solution to Argentina’s economic crisis?
- What would a victory for Milei mean for the right in South America?