This Sunday, more than half of Argentine citizens undertook a very strange experiment. In repudiation of the known, walk towards the unknown. That is the central meaning of Javier Milei’s victory by 56% of the votes over Sergio Massa, the Peronist candidate, who obtained 44% in Sunday’s runoff. Milei is an economist with libertarian ideas, who aspires to a total reform of society around the laws of the market, with very reactionary positions on social policy, human rights or environmental management. He appeared a little more than six years ago as a public figure, participating in TV programs. In 2021 he managed to enter Congress leading a small group of national deputies. And he surprised in this year’s primary elections by getting 30% of the votes, a percentage that he repeated in the general elections on October 22.
The campaign was based on two slogans. One is to put an end to what he calls, appropriating a common label in fascism and also among the Spanish leftists of Podemos, “la casta.” It is a network that goes beyond politics and includes business, union and media corporations. Milei promises to take revenge on that system of power, which is a very attractive proposal for a very large sector of society, which feels punished by a long economic stagnation that is throwing it increasingly into poverty. This is a typical populist operation, by which the disenchantment of a part of the electorate is captured to redirect it towards the ruling class. Milei’s other promise is to stabilize the devilish Argentine economy by replacing the peso with the dollar as the national currency. A very challenging proposal if you take into account that one of the toughest problems facing the country is that its Central Bank ran out of dollars.
The viability of this program may be debatable due to the nature of its objectives. But Milei faces another problem. She lacks legislative power to process the reforms she proposes. Her strength, La Libertad Avanza, will have 36 out of 257 deputies and 8 out of 72 senators starting in December. To move this barrier, the new government will have an agreement with former president Mauricio Macri, who governed Argentina between 2015 and 2019. Macri, and his presidential candidate, Patricia Bullrich, forced an agreement with Milei to defeat Peronism in the second round. . But that movement broke its own force, Together for Change, which today is dispersed among leaders of the Pro, the Radical Civic Union and the Civic Coalition, the three groups that made it up until a month ago. It means that the votes that Macri can add to Milei in Congress are insufficient.
The new president’s collaborators are currently exploring a rapprochement with Peronist leaders who could expand their parliamentary base. They are leaders outside of Kirchnerism, which, led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is the dominant current of that party. It is possible that they will achieve something. Many governors who belong to the opposition would be willing to collaborate with an attempt at economic stabilization. The stimulus is evident: inflation this year could exceed 200%. And the difference between the official exchange rate and the parallel one is 140%. Of course: to reach these agreements, Milei will have to give up many of his most audacious ideas. Those by which his voters brought him to power.
The relationship with Peronism will be marked by aggressiveness. Mrs. Kirchner will continue to rule there, who controls 106 deputies and 31 senators. Furthermore, she dominates the crucial province of Buenos Aires, where the majority of the poor live, in a country that exhibits an ominous rate: 42% of its population with unmet basic needs. Buenos Aires is governed by Axel Kicillof, an economist with Marxist leanings who maintains canine loyalty towards the leader of Peronism.
The contradiction between La Libertad Avanza and Kirchnerism promises to be very intense. They are two forces symmetrical in their antagonism. And both with populist features: cult of the leader’s personality and contempt for any form of mediation between the leader and his base. The counterpoint will go through two main axes. The vision of social policies, which for Milei are a form of theft, and the human rights agenda. When imagining this duel, a delicate question arises: what role will the street play. That is, with what degree of mobilization will Peronism, and the leftist forces, respond to Milei’s program. And the immediate question: how Milei will react.
These are more disturbing unknowns due to an additional fact: the new president and a good part of his assistants are completely unaware of the rules of the office they have joined. Partly because of that virginity they have gotten the vote. Now other skills will be required: understanding the board, intelligence to understand other people’s incentives, negotiation skills. And an enigma is whether Milei has them.
This is a crucial question also in the international arena. The chancellor of the new government will be Diana Mondino, an economist with no diplomatic experience. On that front there are several conflicts to be resolved. The most important has to do with the link with Brazil. Milei has cultivated a very close alliance with Jair Bolsonaro, which was expressed yesterday in a long communication published by the former Brazilian president. In tribute to that friendship, she has very harshly disqualified Lula da Silva. The link with Brazil is central for Argentina, especially for its economy. It is a mystery how it will be maintained going forward.
Something similar, but of much less intensity, happens with the United States, where Milei is supported by Donald Trump’s campaign. Joe Biden yesterday welcomed his victory, hoping that he would correct his position regarding climate change. The new Argentine president believes that concern about this problem is an overreaction to generate fear with artificial roots.
At the base of these challenges there is a question: Has Milei realized the composition of the electoral current that yesterday brought him to the edge of power? There are 30% of voters who admire him. A group of them joined him for ideological reasons. Others, because they are angry and want radical change. But the 55% on Sunday contains 25% of people who come from voting for other candidates. And that he chose Milei in the second round to avoid the continuity of Peronism. They voted against Massa. That stripe, which put him at the head of the government, may now be the one that limits him.
On old medieval maps a legend appeared: terra incognita, unknown land. It indicated areas that had never been traveled by any explorer. Argentina has entered one of those mysterious regions. One such map, the Hunt-Lenox Globe, preserved in the New York Public Library, presents another warning: Hic sunt dracones. There are dragons here. It is the risk of walking into the unknown.