Milei: Argentina’s Favourite Candidate Heating Up

  • Javier Milei won the Argentinian primaries by a landslide
  • Facing economic disarray, Argentinians are looking for answers in new places.
  • Milei will have to have a peronist Congress and institutional barriers to achieve his ambitions in Argentina.
Ilan Berkenwald / CC BY-SA 2.0

Why is Milei’s heat level Hot? 

Answer: Milei won the PASO elections with a clear majority, making him a favourite for the general elections this month.

This August, Argentinian presidential candidate Javier Milei obtained not only his party’s, La Libertad Avanza (LLA), official candidacy for the general elections, but captured 32% of the total vote during the Simultaneous and Mandatory Open Primaries (PASO, in Spanish). Given that the other leading opposition parties — centre-left Juntos Por el Cambio (JxC) and centre-right Unión por la Patria (UP) — were facing fierce in-party competition, Milei was placed hot on the trail of the presidency.

This victory is not only significant for raising the candidate’s prospects tomorrow, but this was the first time that a non-traditional party won the PASO. Facing the two front-running opposition as well as the incumbent coalitions, Milei has defied expectations of a much tougher race. While this does not predict his performance in the upcoming election, it signals that an outsider win may be possible. 

Still, Milei is a highly controversial figure. In his attempt to expand his voter base, he will have to find a way to attract the traditionally peronist vote — the strongest, most loyal vote of the nation — as well as the opposition. 

Argentinians are currently facing inflation rates of up to 124%. This means that prices for common goods more than double each month. As energy importers, Argentina has struggled deeply with the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine’s shocks to energy supply. As of now, there has been little political recourse as the peronists have held a monopoly on power for decades. More than that, Argentinian politics have been in disarray due to infighting between peronists, most infamously, between President Alberto Fernandez and Vice President Cristina Kirchner

The elections tomorrow will most likely present a face-off between Peronist centrist Sergio Massa and Javier Milei, putting him on the hot seat.  

Who is changing Milei’s temperature? 

Answer: Milei has found popular support in a frustrated electorate, and resistance in a deeply peronist government. 

Milei’s success has been built on a strong criticism of the Argentinian establishment, referred to as “the cast” by the candidate. His zealous messages, unconventional proposals, and his charismatic oratory have allowed Milei to garner a large number of supporters. 

Argentina endures a systemic economic crisis, facing triple digit inflation rates, the highest data collected since 1991. This instability and uncertainty have driven Argentinians to distrust the peronist government and seek change through the polls. Milei has used this dissatisfaction to his advantage and consolidated support by strongly criticising and opposing peronism with an ultra-conservative stance. An impoverished middle class and young people, who identify most with his message, are the main composers of the candidate’s voter platform. 

Amongst Milei’s proposals stands out the dollarization, aimed at the reduction of inflation. This economic plan is, on the one hand, what has strengthened the LLA leader’s candidacy and, on the other hand, what could freeze it. While Milei supporters believe his victory would mean Argentina’s economic recuperation, the Congress could paralyse his motions. In the event of a LLA victory, a probable lack of majority in the legislative branches – predominantly peronist – would mean a confrontation between Milei’s executive and the Congress. This would result in the overrule of the liberalist proposals

What is driving Milei?

Answer: An economist, Milei is driven by a puritanical economic libertarian ideology to, in his view, rescue Argentina from left-wing leadership and socialism.

Up until his political career began in 2019, Milei was an economist by trade. He is a proponent of libertarian, free-market economics akin to Chile’s Pinochet. Two factors are important to consider his role in Argentina: the first is his loyalty to the libertarian economic and political ideology; the second is his persona of an “outsider” who will upend a decades-long cycle of corruption in Argentinian politics.

For many, Milei is a character that is hard to place on the traditional political spectrum; this is mostly because he doesn’t follow a traditional party platform. So far, he has proposed lifting capital restrictions, lowering taxes, repaying the IMF, modernising the country’s labour laws, as well as abolishing the ministries of environment, education, health, women, among others. Furthermore, while he is critical of Western countries, Milei wants to distance Argentina from China and other “communist” countries, starting by withdrawing the country’s candidacy from the BRICS

What drives him is the motivation to implement these policies in the hope that they will transform the political and economic life of Argentina. Winning these elections and having the power to elect his cabinet is crucial for these goals to come to fruition. Once in office, Milei has stated that to bypass the likely peronist congress, he will rule by referendum, showing an illiberal streak that has been prominent in Latin America over the past decades. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Milei wants to lead a coalition against socialism, potentially affecting relations with Argentina’s biggest trading partners and regional cooperation.

Milei’s results in the PASO came as a surprise both in Argentina and abroad, and spread scepticism amongst diplomatic missions. The lack of a well-settled and clear foreign affairs agenda in the candidate’s electoral program as well as his drastic economic proposals resulted in diplomats being uncomfortable with the possibility of an LLA victory. 

The scarce importance given by Milei’s party to regional and international cooperation is heightened when it comes to dealing with non-right wing leaders. He has announced his intention to withdraw Argentina’s membership application to BRICS – which was approved last August – as he won’t deal with the communist nations in the organisation, referring to Brazil and China. 

His enmity with leftist governments has been palpable since the beginning of his political career. In 2020 Milei signed the “Carta de Madrid”, the founding document of Foro Madrid. The Argentinian candidate has, hence, built hostility against regional leaders, including Chilean president Gabriel Boric, and Brazilian president Lula da Silva. These leaders constitute two of the main trade partners to Argentina, Brazil being its first trading partner and Chile the fourth. 

In the case of Milei’s victory, we can expect an even more inward-looking Argentina. The waning future of Mercosur is also put in question, as well as its impending trade deal with the European Union. Fragmentation in Latin America is likely to continue as nationalistic leaders take the helm, making communication in international fora all the more difficult for the region.

Written by: Francia Morales and Covadonga Moreno 


The shared Account of RAIA members and Alumni