Argentina turns to the Right: Milei wins presidency
The 2023 presidential election in Argentina resulted in a landslide victory for Javier Milei of the libertarian-based Liberty Advances Party. Having been a former TV pundit and economics professor and two years as a national deputy representing Bueno Aires, Milei’s victory as an outsider represents a seismic political shift in Argentina's history. While much of Latin America embraces socialist left-wing policies, Milei represents a new brand of conservative politics in the region.
In recent interviews, Milei describes his political philosophy as ‘libertarian’ and ‘anarcho-capitalist.' He has studied the Austrian School of Economics and American economists Milton Friedman and Murray Rothbard. Argentina is the second largest economy in South America and faces historic inflation at 143%, while poverty is at its highest level in three years. Milei’s unconventional campaign included a metaphorical chainsaw to cut through bureaucratic red tape by moving the economy to austerity.
One of Milei’s economic prescriptions is incorporating the U.S. dollar to replace the peso as Argentina's new currency, which is unheard of for a country of 45.8 million people. He has also pledged to abolish the central banking system, privatize the pension system, cut government spending, and promote free trade with other countries. He told the Economist that “Tariffs should not exist.”
His administration will eliminate most, if not all, government agencies. President-elect Milei describes his economic reform as shock therapy. “If we don’t do the fiscal adjustment, we’re going to hyperinflation,” he said on radio after the election. “I’m going to do a shock adjustment.”
Despite his staunch libertarian politics, Milei holds many social and foreign policy views that traditional conservatives find appealing. He is pro-life and believes unborn babies deserve complete protection under the law because ‘scientific evidence’ demands it. He also opposes public funding for gender-affirming care and plans to eliminate comprehensive sex education. He denies that humans are the cause of climate change and, as a Catholic, has publicly criticized Pope Francis for his worldly views.
Milei vows to visit Israel on his first trip overseas. He is a passionate supporter of Israel and its right to self-defense and condemns the Hamas attacks on October 7. He plans to move Argentina’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem when he takes office. Milei envisions the U.S. and Israel as Argentina’s main allies and will cut relations with China, Russia, and Brazil. He has supported Ukraine since the full-scale invasion from Russia, has marched in pro-Ukrainian demonstrations, and even wore a Ukrainian flag pin to parliament. His description of Russian President Vladimir Putin as an "autocrat," and he plans to hold a peace summit for Latin America and Ukraine.
These conservative views combined with an eccentric personality and rock-star good looks were enough for Javier Milei to defeat Economy Minister Sergio Massa. The first round of voting resulted in Massa beating Milei 36% to 30% in a surprising fashion, as Massa's incumbent Homeland Party is responsible for current dire economic conditions. On November 19th, Milei defeated Massa 55% to 44%, which made it the most decisive victory percentage-wise since Argentina's return to democracy in 1983.
Milei’s win is even more impressive as he won over a key demographic of young voters. Polls showed during the first round of voting that Milei carried the youth vote, specifically young males, by nearly 50%. Historically, young Argentinian voters vote liberal. However, due to the unbearable economy and an out-of-touch political status quo, Milei shifted young people into his coalition, including poor and working-class voters.
Much of Milei’s victory seems to mirror that of Donald Trump’s in 2016; while there are similarities such as personal flair and media popularity, Trump is a populist whose main issue is immigration and trade, while Milei wants to move Argentina into prosperity. Trump is a much more reactionary political figure in American politics, while Milei is more of a political intellectual for conservatives. So, while Trump wants to 'Make America Great Again,' Milei wants to ‘Make Conservatism Cool Again.’
Javier Milei will come into office on December 10 as a weak president as his party only has 35 of 257 seats in the lower house and 7 of 72 senate benches. He will have to work closely with opposition parties to accomplish his political agenda and restore Argentina as the economic powerhouse it was after World War I.
Image: Vox España