Argentina has embraced the far-right without nuances. Javier Milei swept the presidential runoff election held this Sunday, securing 56% of the votes, while Sergio Massa — the Peronist coalition candidate and current Minister of the Economy in a country with 142% year-on-year inflation — garnered 44%. The difference between the two candidates was almost three million votes, an unprecedented thrashing for the center-left Peronist movement. The turnaround was much more abrupt than expected, and Argentina is now heading towards the unknown, following in the footsteps of Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. “Today begins the reconstruction of Argentina, today begins the end of the decadence. The impoverishing model of the omnipresent state comes to an end. Today we embrace again the ideas of freedom, those of our founding fathers,” president-elect Milei said Sunday.
Milei warned that he will be very hard on those who resist “violently” the changes he proposes and added that “there will be no gradualism or lukewarmness.” “If we do not move forward quickly with the structural changes that Argentina needs, we will be headed towards the worst crisis in history. But today, we are once again embracing the ideas of freedom to become a world power,” he promised.
Milei — a TV panelist who only became a politician two years ago when he became a congressman — promises to turn the establishment upside down. Shouting “long live freedom, dammit” and armed with a chainsaw, during his campaign he called for the extermination of “the political caste,” which he blames for the perpetual economic crisis that is devastating Argentina. Key to Milei’s triumph was the support he received from former liberal president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019). Macri had been left out of the race after the defeat of his running mate, Patricia Bullrich, in the first round of elections held on October 22. However, it took Macri less than 24 hours to openly support the ultra candidate and thus give him a democratic veneer that, in the end, was enough to convince even the most undecided voter.
Milei campaigned on reducing the size and reach of the national government, by closing the Education and Health ministries and progressively eliminating social welfare programs. In view of Sunday’s results, it’s clear that Milei broke the reluctance of even those Argentines who, since the return to democracy in 1983, have defended the role of an entrepreneurial and welfare state, whether it be a Peronist, radical or even liberal state, such as Macri’s. In Argentina, health and education at all levels is public and free.
Milei has also said he wants to repeal abortion — which has been legal in Argentina since 2020 — and revoke the rule that prevents the Armed Forces from participating in internal security tasks. To put an end to inflation, which tops 140%, Milei promotes a dollarization of the economy and the closing of the Central Bank, responsible for currency issuance.
Among the profound changes proposed by Milei, there is also a re-reading of state terrorism, arguing that the dictatorship only committed “excesses” and that the figure of 30,000 missing persons maintained by human rights organizations is “an excuse to continue stealing.” This flag of historical negationism is also carried by his running mate and vice-president-elect, Victoria Villarruel, daughter of military officers. When she went to cast her ballot on Sunday, she was met by protestors, something she did not take well. “It is the first time that the daughter of a Malvinas veteran becomes vice president. I don’t know what bothers them when they have had children of terrorists in government positions. Those who are bothered by the arrival of freedom of expression are the violent ones,” she said.
Milei’s votes came primarily from the middle and lower classes, especially among young people. Fed up with the recurrent economic crises, voters born in democracy embraced the ideas of the ultra candidate and his promise to tear everything down and start anew. He also managed to capture most of the 6.2 million votes that Patricia Bullrich — Macri’s former minister of security — obtained in the first round. He won 21 of the country’s 24 electoral districts, including Córdoba, Santa Fe and Mendoza, the second-largest providence after Buenos Aires.
Milei will take office on December 10, when Peronist Alberto Fernández’s term ends. On that day the far-right president-elect should have the names of his ministers, especially his pick to lead the Ministry of Economy. On top of skyrocketing inflation, four out of ten Argentines are poor and the Central Bank reserves are in the red. The need to find immediate solutions will force Milei to negotiate with those whom during the campaign he called “shitty lefties,” “human scum” and “eyesores.” Having only 38 of the 350 deputies in the National Congress, Milei will need the help — and votes — of Macri’s 94 deputies. The market assumes that there will be a deep adjustment of the economy towards a zero deficit and a devaluation of the currency. The question is how Milei’s government will handle such a task.
However, the political earthquake has already taken place. This Sunday marks the beginning of the decline of Kirchnerism, the current of Peronism that has dominated Argentine politics since 2003. Cristina Kirchner did not participate in the campaign and trusted Massa — a Peronist from the most liberal sectors of the movement — to do the job. Massa already tried to become president in 2015, under the wing of the Frente Renovador party (Total Renewal Front), a dissident Peronist grouping he created to oppose Cristina Kirchner. He came in third, behind Macri and Peronist Daniel Scioli, with 21.3% of the vote. In 2019, he returned to Kirchnerism and climbed positions to become the candidate of the party that only four years earlier he had betrayed. Defeated at the national level, Peronism will now take refuge in the province of Buenos Aires, the largest, most populous and richest in the country. The governor, Axel Kicillof, won reelection in the general elections of October and will try to rebuild from there. He has four years of work ahead of him.
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