Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

REACTION: Javier Milei Wins Argentina’s Presidency

The libertarian lawmaker finished 11 points ahead of economy minister Sergio Massa. Experts analyze what happened and what’s next for the country.
Argentine President-elect Javier Milei speaks during an election night rally on November 19.Anita Pouchard Serra/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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On Sunday, November 19, Javier Milei won Argentina’s presidential runoff election, taking 55.7% of the vote to Sergio Massa’s 44.3%. The 11-point margin was larger than some polls had predicted, voters backing Milei’s message of drastic change as the country deals with inflation above 140% and a 40% poverty rate. Massa, the incumbent economy minister, conceded early in the night. 

AQ asked observers to share their reaction to the result:

Juan Cruz Díaz, managing director at Cefeidas Group

Part of Javier Milei’s victory could be attributed to his ability to capitalize on the population’s widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling coalition. The deep economic deterioration that Argentina has experienced in the last four years (including rising inflation and poverty rates), together with a certain aspect of general fatigue with the political establishment, particularly with Kirchnerism, allowed for the inexperienced Milei to quickly penetrate and take advantage of more traditional opposition proposals, mainly those of the Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) coalition.

While Milei’s strong anti-establishment narrative was key to his meteoric rise to the presidency, leading up to the runoff, the libertarian leader toned down the intensity of his speech following the general election results, opting instead for a more conciliatory approach. This was reflected in his reconciliation with the JxC’s presidential candidate, Patricia Bullrich. Her support, along with that of former President Mauricio Macri, played a key role in the final sprint of the campaign, mobilizing resources and securing many JxC votes for Milei, which were key to yesterday’s victory.

Meanwhile, Sergio Massa was unable to overcome the current unfavorable economic context. His campaign strategy, focused on presenting himself as a moderate candidate while attempting to portray the uncertainty surrounding a possible Milei presidency, did not pay off and culminated in a more resounding defeat than what was widely expected.

From now on, Milei will face an unstable government transition process, marked by the reported resignation of Massa as minister of economy. As of December 10, the new president will face a complex context, with no governors or majority support in Congress, which will force him to seek a consensus, taking advantage of the momentum granted by the popular vote in the elections.

Brian Winter, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly

The election is now over, but we still don’t know who will govern Argentina: Will it be the volatile Javier Milei from most of the campaign? Or the calmer, comparatively moderate coalition leader who we saw at times during the final weeks? 

If it’s the latter—“if”—then Argentina may have a chance at success. 

The task ahead is formidable. But if Milei can partner with former President Mauricio Macri’s center-right coalition to produce a minimally coherent economic policy, then Argentina has other winds blowing in its favor including a natural gas windfall, lithium and other mining projects, and a harvest that should be much better than during this year’s 60-year drought.

That rosier scenario may never materialize. When Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro were elected, some voters also waited for a “pivot” that never came. Milei may simply not have the temperament, or the political support in Congress, to govern and approve the painful reforms that will be necessary to put Argentina back on its feet.

Milei’s victory speech, with its promise of “drastic change, without gradualism,” suggested an emboldened leader who has decided to go full speed ahead with his agenda, including possibly dollarization. You wonder if the 11-point victory was “too big,” possibly leading Milei to discard the somewhat more conventional approach of the runoff. We’ll see.

There has been a lot of talk about the future of Argentina’s democracy. Indeed, we will need to watch this new government carefully. But likewise, we will also need to see whether Peronism and its allies will understand the overwhelming popular mandate that Miei has just received, or whether they will try to violently obstruct or overthrow Milei from Day 1 with strikes and civil unrest. Respecting a winner of a legitimate election, and the underlying cry for dramatic change, is also part of democracy.

María Esperanza Casullo, professor at the National University of Río Negro and CONICET

Milei won thanks to a perfect transfer of first-round votes from third-place finisher Patricia Bullrich (and her primary challenger Horacio Rodríguez Larreta), plus from Juan Schiaretti, who finished fourth.

This means he has an ample mandate to implement his whole policy agenda: dollarization, privatization of YPF and other state companies, brutal cuts to the state structures. It also means that he is now effectively a partner of former President Mauricio Macri. Macri’s promise that he could control or moderate Milei was key for the former’s followers to vote for Milei, and it is still to be seen how involved Macri will now be in Milei’s government.

With no imminent need to moderate, Milei may not choose to do so—his victory speech struck an uncompromising stance, and other populist governments have found that their best strategy is to come out of the gates swinging.

Lastly, I do not think there will be widespread Peronist resistance on the streets. Peronists are badly defeated and will not mobilize against a government elected with such a broad mandate. The attitude will more likely be something like, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” And Milei has specifically promised a harsh response to protests.

Tags: Argentina, Dollarization, Javier Milei, Sergio Massa
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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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