Milei Elected: Argentina Bets It All On "Anything Is Better Than This"
The radical libertarian Javier Milei confounded the polls to decisively win the second round of Argentina's presidential elections; now he must win over a nation that has voiced its disgust with the country's brand of politics as usual.
BUENOS AIRES — Two very clear messages were delivered by Argentine society with its second-round election of the libertarian politician Javier Milei as its next president.
The first was to say it was putting a definitive end to the Kirchner era, which began in 2003 with the presidency of the late Néstor Kirchner and lasted, in different forms, until last night.
The second was to choose the possibility, if nothing else, of a future that allows Argentina to emerge from its longstanding state of prostration. It's a complicated bet, because the election of the candidate of Libertad Avanza (Liberty Advances) is so radical and may entail changes to the political system so big as to defy predictions right now.
This latter is the bigger of the two key consequences of the election, but the voters turning their back on the government of Cristina and Alberto Fernández and its putative successor, (the Economy minister) Sergio Massa, also carries historical significance. They could not have said a clearer No to that entrenched political clan. So much so that they decided to trust instead a man who emerged in 2021 as a member of parliament, with a weak party structure behind him and a territorial base no bigger than three mayors in the Argentine hinterland.
Ticket to radicalism
The results can be seen as a good sign that a society that had been so cautious in electing presidents in the past 40 years, is at the end of its tether. When the Peronist president Carlos Menem, from the country's long-established political tradition, was ousted (in 1999) in favor of the more liberal Fernando de la Rúa, people were under the impression he would keep Menem's (unfeasible) convertibility policy of a peso for a U.S. dollar. He resigned two years later amid scenes of chaos.
Milei promised only radical measures and shock treatments
In 2015, it was the conservative Mauricio Macri's turn to take over; but again, amid a pervasive impression that changes would be gradual even if necessary. He was succeeding Cristina Kirchner, who then returned as the (very presidential) vice-president and power behind the outgoing Alberto Fernández.
This time, Milei promised only radical measures and shock treatments. No more gradualism in what he has called "Argentina's reconstruction." It is not clear how he will do this but he has already built bridges with the 'incrementalist' Right represented by Patricia Bullrich, the conservative candidate knocked out in the first round of presidential elections, and the former president Macri. Their PRO (Republican Proposal) party may fill some of the next cabinet seats, though it must be said that they too were willing to build bridges with the figure that was about to vacuum up their voter base.
While outgoing Economy Minister Massa did win in the country's most populated constituency, the province of Buenos Aires, the victory margin was so slim as to constitute in fact a humiliating defeat in what was meant to be a safe party base.
Javier Milei is the new elected president of Argentina after defeating the presidential candidate and current Minister of Economy Sergio Massa
Will of voters
Massa is a proud man habitually, yet hastened to congratulate Milei long before final results were announced, confirming he would step down as Economy minister in the transition period. It seemed nothing Massa could do nor any of his promises would overcome Milei: neither toxic Cristina Kirchner's favor of disappearing during the campaign nor Massa's apparent disdain for the outgoing president, nor a calculated decision to keep the (November 20) bank holiday - banking on keeping conservative voters at home!
Milei now faces a Herculean task.
Undecided voters weren't buying gestures this time. This time around, the electorate simply wanted this government out and refused another Kirchner variation like the Fernández farce hoisted on it in 2019.
Milei now faces a Herculean task. He must tackle the country's socio-economic crisis without yet having a clear and proper program in place. That's where Bullrich and Macri can come in handy, though it is still not clear how their legislators will align themselves.
Other political forces are also deciding on the posture to adopt toward the country's unexpected, and unnerving new president. Indeed, with Peronism soon pushed out, the political landscape may soon return to an old state of dispersion, and indecision. It is up to the next president to win the majority of Argentines over in a way that goes beyond casting a single vote.
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