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Javier Milei: Argentina’s far-right high-flier loses altitude

Candidates aligned with the libertarian politician have lost every provincial election so far

Javier Milei, Argentine presidential candidate, speaks during an interview at La Libertad Avanza's offices in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Javier Milei in Buenos Aires; February, 2023.Erica Canepa (Bloomberg)

Javier Milei seems to be flying solo in Argentina. Currently serving as a federal deputy of Buenos Aires, the libertarian incarnation of Trumpism in South America is a serious contender in the October presidential elections. But his popularity hasn’t rubbed off on candidates he endorsed in the 10 provincial elections held in Argentina over the last three months. His party, La Libertad Avanza (or, Liberty Moves Forward), has suffered one defeat after another, and the most recent loss in the northern province of Tucumán was the toughest. Ricardo Bussi, the son of an army general under the country’s dictatorship, barely scraped up 4% of the vote. Bussi’s devastating defeat in a bid to win a governorship once held by his father has cast doubt on the strength of Milei’s ultra-right coattails.

Milei is doing well in pre-election polls for the August open primaries, which predict he will win 20% of the vote. This puts him in the lead as an individual candidate, but his party overall is in third place behind the other two big coalitions: Unión por la Patria (the Peronist successor to the Frente de Todos party created by Cristina Kirchner in 2015) and Juntos por el Cambio (the center-right heir to former President Mauricio Macri’s party). While these two coalitions hash through internal processes to nominate their candidates, the libertarian economist elected to Congress in 2021 promising “to kick the political elites out on their asses” heads a political movement with no national structure.

The defeat of La Libertad Avanza in Tucumán was quickly followed by the withdrawal of its candidate for governor of the province of Buenos Aires, Guillermo Britos. His June 14 announcement to abandon the race in the country’s largest electoral district came nearly a week before the registration deadline. The first rule of Argentine politics says you can’t become president without winning the province of Buenos Aires, so Milei’s political future seems even more unlikely. If he wins the presidency in October, his party wouldn’t hold a single provincial governorship. In fact, his party only has one candidate still in a race — a legislator and former YouTuber running for mayor of Buenos Aires with no chance of winning.

La Libertad Avanza announced in May that it would focus all its efforts and resources on the presidential race after its candidates for governor in Neuquén and Río Negro (provinces in central Argentina) failed to win even 10% of the vote in April, the first elections of the year. A defeat in the province of Tierra del Fuego followed, where Milei had endorsed an evangelist pastor who finished third with 7% of the vote, less than the number of blank votes. His candidate in Misiones withdrew two weeks before the elections. Milei’s best chance was in La Rioja, where he supported a nephew of former President Carlos Menem, who came in third with 15% of the vote.

Milei quickly distanced himself from these losing candidates and never mentioned their names in public again. This political calculation did not go down well with some of his allies, who felt abandoned in the face of the defeat. On June 15, Carlos Eguía, the gubernatorial candidate Milei had supported in Neuquén, went on a rant in his radio program. “We were the only ones in the country who put up 10 candidates. Do you think Milei called to congratulate us? Never!” said Eguía, who came in fourth with 8% of the vote in April. “You [Milei] called us to Buenos Aires to put on a show for the media about all your supporters around the country, and it was a lie.”

Eguía, a media entrepreneur and a popular radio show host in his province, is a good example of Milei’s hastily assembled political coalition beyond Buenos Aires. A former candidate for Congress, Eguía aligned with La Libertad Avanza earlier this year when the party he represented in the 2021 legislative elections joined the large Juntos por el Cambio coalition.

Explosive and foul-mouthed, he has often been criticized for making discriminatory statements on the radio. His recent outburst against Milei came after hearing him describe the Tucumán race as the party’s “first big battle.” Eguía erupted. “What about all of us in Tierra del Fuego, La Rioja, Neuquén and Río Negro? What are we — Indians? Shit? Yes, shit. Milei thinks we’re all shit.”

La Libertad Avanza has nine days to find a new candidate to run for governor of Buenos Aires, but that’s not its only headache. For the July elections in the Patagonian province of Chubut, Milei endorsed César Treffinger, a businessman charged with alleged “illegal intelligence” operations against his political adversaries. Milei has endorsed another businessman in the Entre Ríos race — Sebastián Etchevehere — convicted for diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a government loan.

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