Milei disrupts Argentina's politics
Aug. 14, 2023
Libertarian Javier Milei was the most voted candidate in Argentina’s open primaries yesterday — signaling a major challenge to the political establishment by a vast number of citizens angered by an ever growing poverty rate and systematic economic crises.
The PASO effectively serves as a massive opinion poll ahead of October’s general election, but also gives an added push to the day’s winner, in this case an “outsider” who has promised to end the “political caste” and who thanked his “four legged children” in his victory speech.
Nonetheless, the results — essentially a three-way tie — leave a wide open election for October, with a likely second round in November, and significant uncertainty over how the large number citizens who abstained yesterday might impact results.
Milei came in first, but less than two points ahead of the combined results of the conservative Juntos por el Cambio coalition, and less than three ahead of the governing Unión por la Patria — a “thirds” scenario predicted by Vice President Cristina Ferández de Kirchner in May.
The major incognito moving forward is whether Milei will continue growing in voter support, or whether voters seeking to avoid an outsider president coalesce around another candidate. (Infobae)
Milei obtained victory in 16 of Argentina’s 24 provinces, defeating traditional Peronist strongholds across the country. JxC won in only three provinces, including Buenos Aires city, and UxP in 5, including Buenos Aires province. (The Road to the Casa Rosada) Milei’s victory is all the more impressive for his lack of party machinery, notes Mario Wainfeld in Página 12.
Thirty percent of voters abstained from voting yesterday — a record number in a presidential race, and in keeping with provincial elections this year that indicate significant rejection of the political status quo. Blank and null votes remained at historically regular levels, 4.73% yesterday. (Cenital)
Hawkish Patricia Bullrich beat the more centrist Horacio Rodríguez Larreta for the Juntos por el Cambio ticket, part of a general rightward swing among voters. It is unclear whether Rodríguez Larreta’s 11.29% voters will cast their votes for Bullrich in October, or migrate to other political spaces. Bullrich will have a difficult time increasing votes in the general election — her natural base overlaps with Milei, who is unlikely to lose voters in October.
Voters particularly punished the governing Unión por la Patria, which lost more than 20% since the 2019 primaries. But the opposition Juntos por el Cambio also lost support (especially in Cordoba province) and came in with a combined 3% less than in 2019. JxC lost more than 10 percent of support since the legislative elections of 2021, notes Ignacio Fidanza in La Política Online.
“Milei has pitched himself as the radical change that the collapsing Argentine economy needs,” reports the New York Times. He believes the country’s Central Bank should be abolished, doesn’t believe in climate change, wants to legalize the sale of human organs and loosen gun regulations. (Associated Press)
“Other parts of the “chainsaw plan” include eliminating 11 government ministries, reducing government spending by 15% of the country’s GDP, and privatizing or closing down state companies and agencies, among other austerity measures,” reports the Buenos Aires Herald.
It’s too soon to know whether Milei will overturn Argentina’s political status quo, or scare people into supporting the major coalitions that have dominated the past two decades. But analysts are pointing to a major political earthquake, a potential paradigm shift responding to deep-seated frustration at a political system that has no answers for too many citizens.
Public opinion analyst Shila Vilker, writing before the results, emphasized voter apathy “explained by the democratic failure to solve citizen issues and problems.” The result is reticence to support the system and its actors, she wrote in Newsweek.
Yesterday’s results indicate “too many people perceive that, as things are, it is very difficult to live in Argentina,” writes journalist Ernesto Tenenbaum in Infobae, comparing Milei to the rise of Juan Perón in 1946, but a leadership that would move the country in the opposite direction.
“You don't need a doctorate in sociology to notice that Argentine society is splintered, broken into a thousand pieces after a decade of stagnation, of an economy that doesn't work, nor does it resolve, nor does it show a way out, of a polarized political configuration that already it is of no use to anyone, from years of pandemic and inflation,” writes José Natanson in El Diplo, likening the results to a dagger blow by society to the democratic system.
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