By Franco Vielma – Nov 20, 2023
According to the results of the Argentinian presidential elections this Sunday, November 19, far-right economist Javier Milei won the second round, obtaining nearly 55.7% of the votes with 98% of the ballots counted. Thus, defeating the ruling party’s Sergio Massa, who won 44.3% of the votes.
Milei’s electoral victory is clear across the board. This result reaffirms his steady trend of dominating the public conversation. Indeed, in the final stages, Argentina’s presidential election was based on whether Milei won or lost, acquiring extremely polarizing subtilities.
The ruling party’s defeat was immediately recognized by Massa, who said he had called the president-elect to congratulate him. He said that his country would make way for a “democratic transition” and a change of command.
In just a couple of years, Milei went from being an economist who attracted attention on TV shows with his libertarian ideas to being the president-elect of Argentina.
Milei himself defined his short career and significant victory in a presidential runoff as a “miracle.” “Thanks to the team that has been working for two years to transform Argentina and to achieve the miracle of having a liberal libertarian president,” Milei said in his victory speech.
He won without government experience, but he has taken his place as an outsider and a disruptive reference. Therefore, it is important to analyze some of the main causes of Milei’s victory.
1. Mathematical analysis
In the primaries, according to official results, Milei obtained just over 7.1 million votes of the 35.4 million that make up the Argentine electoral roll, giving him 30% of the vote.
Milei retained the support achieved in the primaries and reached the first round of the presidential elections with some 7.8 million votes, growing just over 10% but obtaining 29.9% of the total.
Sergio Massa obtained 36% of the support in the first round with 9.6 million votes.
The far-right economist managed to double the amount of votes he got in the primaries. This could be considered the most important statistical rebound recorded in Argentinian presidential elections during the current democratic era. Indeed, Milei has become the candidate with the most votes in this type of election in Argentina’s history.
The mathematical correlation makes it clear that there was an effective transfer of votes from Patricia Bullrich to Milei after the right-wing agreement that occurred when Mauricio Macri decided to support Milei. Note the critical flaw in the origin of Milei’s “anti-caste” speech, who could now be considered to owe his victory to the support that “Macrism” has given him through the traditional party Together for Change.
This is an important element to highlight, given that this is where the analysis of disruptive or outsider candidates lies. In the case of far-right figures, as has been the case with Milei, the decisive factor has turned out to be the right-wing pact and the effective transfer of votes through similar political affiliations and identities in the groups of voters, especially due to the rejections of left or social democratic parties.
Although Milei is an electoral phenomenon, he had a consolidated core of only 30%. Significant, but not a majority. Now, the support of the Macrista “caste” suddenly changed the correlation.
Argentina is a clear new example, just as Brazil and the United States were, that their disruptive leaders managed to achieve the majority by positioning themselves over traditional right-wing electoral forces.
The right, and even their own established conservative parties, continue to win elections with a fresh and disruptive appearance.
2. Lukewarm Alberto
In Argentina, the general level of the Consumer Price Index registered a monthly increase of 8.3% in October 2023 and accumulated a variation of 120% so far this year. In the year-on-year comparison, the inflation reached 142.7%.
For Argentina’s economy, these are quite high figures. They fall directly on the management of President Alberto Fernández and the official candidate Sergio Massa, who currently serves as Minister of Economy.
The Argentinian economic scenario is also determined by a complex currency exchange system, with seven different types of official exchange rates for various sectors. This influences the chaoticization of price systems, which is contained by superficial and weak regulatory mechanisms.
These combined elements, in political matters, are understood in Argentinian public opinion as features of a governance crisis and delay of adjustments, which have been postponed time and time again due to the electoral variable.
The underlying issue in the current scenario of the Argentinian economy lies in the debt that Macri inherited from Argentina to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Fernández did not achieve better agreements with the creditor body, and the public budget is dealing with a high cost of debt payments.
Outside the economic sphere, Cristina Fernández, who was the main official reference, ended up politically handcuffed by the lawfare against her. However, she also failed to maneuver in her own government. Now, the leader is dealing with high levels of delegitimization in the face of large electoral segments.
In Argentina, the judiciary functions as a political party and has never been intervened in by the ruling party.
The transversal appellation of Alberto Fernández’s government as “lukewarm” has many designations, and these are just some of the most notable.
From the left, there is almost a consensus that the structural weakness in the political coordination of the “moderate” Alberto has taken its toll. The ruling party’s social democratic policy did not manage to reinvent itself. It did not achieve a disruptive or attractive political offer. They had little to nothing to offer, while the economic and political crises deepened the dysfunctionality in the ruling party’s representativeness.
One of the most illustrative phrases of the shortcomings of the Alberto Fernández era came precisely from Javier Milei when his victory was barely known:
“The situation in Argentina is critical. The changes that our country needs are drastic. There is no room for gradualism, lukewarmness, half measures.”
Milei, who will apply an absolutely draconian shock scheme on the economy and institutions, has clearly decided to deploy a right-wing political offer of forceful actions that was not seen from the political angle of the left in the Fernández government.
3. Representativeness crisis
Argentina is a country that clearly illustrates the crisis of representation that exists in political parties and social institutions.
This country electorally oscillates and now lurches between left-wing and right-wing governments. Ideological visions are not being imposed on politics and the country. The electorate is leaning towards the best political offer, whatever it may be.
The accumulation of crises in the Argentinian representative system has Milei as its worst creation. He wins an election for making disruptive proposals and despite offering policies that will undoubtedly unfold chaos and institutional crises.
Juan Elman, an Argentinian journalist, expressed a brief and lapidary assessment on his social media accounts:
Nunca se expresaron tantas instituciones en una elección: partidos, sindicatos, iglesias, clubes, marcas, influencers, fandoms. Nunca hubo tanta distancia entre ese gesto “desde arriba” y el comportamiento “desde abajo”. La crisis de representación es total.
— Juan Elman (@juan_elman) November 20, 2023
In fact, many instances of influence in Argentinian life were against Milei. Still, he managed to overcome them not because of his own attributes but because of his “anticasta” offer that he centered in his political discourse. He managed to read the crisis and exhaustion in the main representation systems.
Hence, the Argentinian question must be considered not as a simple crisis of parties: it is a crisis of uncertainty and general representativeness, an unequivocal trait of exhaustion of the model.
4. The promise of rupture
In addition to promises of economic liberalization, destroying the Central Bank, closing ministries, or recriminalizing abortion, Milei used an anti-establishment discourse with harsh criticism of what he calls the “political caste.”
“Since his emergence into the public arena when he was elected deputy, Milei managed to create a very different political narrative confrontational of the system,” Argentinian political scientist Sergio Berensztein tells BBC Mundo.
“There are the famous anti-establishment candidates that we have seen in different parts of the world: the most typical is obviously Donald Trump [in the United States] or Jair Bolsonaro [in Brazil],” he added. “Milei can join that global movement where there is a reaction to the established order.”
That disruptive discourse allowed the Argentinian president-elect to attract voters tired of the government and the political class despite the uncertainty and fear that his proposals cause in many others. He managed to overcome fears, proposing revenge, messianic promises, and daring actions.
Milei especially excited young people, who were key to his victory. Various surveys during the campaign showed that the younger the age of the voters interviewed, the more support for Milei grew.
In reality, Milei is not “anti-caste,” understanding that the real caste in Argentina is the economic, cultural, and institutional powers that de facto govern the country. Many of these factors are not even Argentinian since they operate as transnational elements. Milei will rule with them and for them.
In addition, Milei has formalized his membership in the “caste” by achieving his election through the support of the Macri party, in what will be a form of co-government that will be deployed in the parliamentary power, part of the Executive Branch, and the backstage of realpolitik.
Milei has never been and will never be “anti-caste.” But in this election, that was not relevant. He managed to sell the disruptive story, positioned himself as an outsider, and managed to interpret the discontent and anger resulting from the crisis of representation. All of this, cumulatively, was a very effective vehicle to build a narrative, strong ideas, and an electoral offer.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
Franco Vielma is a Sociologist, writer. He is part of the Mision Verdad collective.
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