Argentina’s Unconventional President: decoding the win

November 22, 2023



From outside the Argentinean borders, Javier Milei fits perfectly the stereotype of the far-right, semi-authoritarian, questionable sense of reason, eccentric, and—with sometimes weird inclinations towards certain activities or cults—leader. He’s seen, from outside the borders, as a new member of the group that Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, or Giorgia Meloni integrate.

Although some of their shared characteristics explain why Javier Milei went from a TV personality many would laugh at in his face to president of this country of around 46 million in barely four years, most of the explanation as to why he came to power has to be extracted from the growing exhaustion the Argentines felt coming up to this election. Milei winning is also a breach in the system of political parties; he hacked the main two coalitions, knowing when to ally and when to crush each one of them with time precision and public opinion sense acuteness.

The first point is “the tiredness.” Most Argentineans didn’t vote for Milei because of the content of his ideas. They voted for him because he had ideas. And different ones from the ones we’ve tried over and over to solve our 40% poverty, running 300% inflation, elephantiasic state with constant fiscal deficit, the greatest debt ever taken from the IMF, 0 dollars in our central bank, but plenty of them in the offshore accounts of our politicians. It doesn’t matter if his, for some, nerve-racking solutions will work. For 55.6% of the country, at least he addressed those issues. It’s more than you can say for any of the other candidates.

Also, a note. Milei comes from a middle- to low-class family. He himself stated that he was physically and psychologically abused by his father, bullied in school, called “madmen,” and permanently questioned throughout his short political career. Some analysts say that the Argentines felt the same towards the political class. Exploited by the squashing tax weight on the ones that create minimum wealth (like 33% retentions on our main agricultural export, soy), mistreated by the lack of adherence to the rules the government itself created for their citizens (like the President doing a dinner party in the middle of the quarantine when people were forbidden to say goodbye to their loved ones that passed away), and overwhelmed by the contrast between an impoverished society and an upscaling “casta”, what he called the people that have been living in the public sector for decades and can somehow afford mansions and yachts.

The second point is “the hacking part.” Milei went up against two main competitors. Juntos Por el Cambio, the main opposition and cradle of the only non-Peronist Ex president that could finish its term since the return of democracy in 1983, Mauricio Macri (up to 2019), was the clear winner eight months ago. In primaries, Patricia Bullrich, the righter option of the coalition, won against Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, a more moderate profile, after a consuming internal fight, because they were sure that whoever won that step of the way was going to be president. After that was settled, Bullrich, the more similar option to Milei, diluted into a kind of “Coke-Pepsi” phenomenon. ‘Why would you have a less quality product if you can have the real thing?’ Also, Milei silently allied with the minister of economy, the candidate of the governing party, Sergio Massa (who was, this Sunday, his contender in the ballot), to get the resources and support he needed to alienate Bullrich. He achieved this. But the most important part is that as soon as she was out of the race in general elections, Milei made a deal, known as the ‘Accasuso pact’ with Macri and Bullrich, to “end with the rule of the ones responsible for the decadence in Argentina”. They achieved this with 11 points of difference from Massa and earned the fourth-most votes for presidents in the history of this republic.

So now we have a president who assures us that he is the first libertarian to ever be elected to office in the history of the world. He has the second (not first, second) minority in Congress, no governors of the provinces or mayors of counties that respond to him, and barely any people of trust to fill in the seats of executive power with. Argentina is starting to go down an unknown road, with the dangers of hyperinflation lurking, towards policies such as dollarization, the closing of the central bank, the privatization of public companies, the radical change of the education and medical system to a voucher one, and what they say will be a massive reduction of the state’s size, the almighty dealer that fuels up the wallets of around half the population directly. Definitely an unfamiliar path. We’ll see how it goes.