Argentina voted for the candidate who best captured the anger accumulated by years of socioeconomic deterioration: Javier Milei. The ultraliberal economist, who declares himself an “anarcho-capitalist”, is against abortion, considers climate change “a farce” on the left, proposes the end of the State and identifies with the extreme right of Vox in Spain, was the surprise of the primary elections by becoming the candidate for president with the most votes. With more than 90% counted, he obtained 30.4% of the votes, followed by Peronist Sergio Massa, with 20.9%, and Patricia Bullrich, with almost 17%. The opposition coalition Together for Change was unable to meet the objective of being the political force with the most votes. The sum of votes between Bullrich and his internal rival, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, reached 28.1%, more than two points away from Milei. Peronism, in its worst primary elections since 2011, came in third place, with 27%.
The primaries drew a stage of thirds this Sunday, a novelty in a country dominated for years by two large coalitions: one led by Peronism and the other by the right represented by former President Mauricio Macri. Milei’s irruption changed everything. From the periphery and promising the “end of the caste” politics, the economist forces traditional politics to shuffle again.
More than 35 million Argentines were summoned to these primaries, who are obliged to participate in this election known as PASO. The winners will compete for the presidency on October 22. If necessary, there will be a second round on November 19.
The results are an earthquake with unpredictable consequences for the South American country. From now on, a tough electoral campaign begins towards the general elections in October in the final stretch of a Peronist government that has not been able to tame inflation, which has more than doubled in four years, up to 115.6%. The bad election of the ruling party further weakens the Executive of Alberto Fernández and complicates the double work of Sergio Massa as Minister of Economy and candidate for the presidency.
The options are now open with a view to October 22, but the atmosphere of the election night – after an election with a participation of 70%, one of the lowest in history – said it all: while hundreds of supporters of Milei celebrated Shouting “the caste is afraid”, the surroundings of the Peronist bunker were a desert and in the Juntos por el Cambio the atmosphere was one of defeat.
The supporters of the libertarian celebrated the triumph in the primaries as if it were the final election. “President! Milei presidente!” The La Libertad Avanza bunker exploded when the first results were announced, after 10:30 p.m. Milei was made to wait for an hour with the primaries in her pocket. The winner jumped onto the stage calmly, with the smile of a child. A boy of no more than 10 years old shouted “Milei, I love you!”, and the histrionic economist took the floor. “Long live freedom, damn it!” He yelled three times. “We are the real opposition,” he assured. “A different Argentina is impossible with the same as always, with those who have always been failing,” he shot at his rivals. “We are an alternative that will not only put an end to Kirchnerism, but also to the entire parasitic political caste that has ruined this country.”
Milei and her team are excited to win in the first round on October 22. According to Argentine electoral laws, for this they need to add 45% of the votes or 40% with a difference of 10 points over their immediate follower. In these primaries La Libertad Avanza obtained close to 30% of the votes.
The joy of his party was guessed from the afternoon. The results were awaited at the Hotel Libertador, a traditional four-star hotel in downtown Buenos Aires. Only their guests were allowed in, but hundreds of people began congregating against the fences from 6 p.m. Inside, between techno music and some rock and roll, his people advanced exit boxes that already gave him that 30%. “It is a historic moment for all of us, unthinkable,” celebrated his running mate, Victoria Villarruel, famous for vindicating the last dictatorship. There was half an hour to know the results, and Villaruel was encouraged against the Government. “They have extremely high numbers for La Libertad Avanza. We want to demand that you report these figures and keep your promised word.” Outside, hundreds chanted “the caste is afraid,” Milei’s war chant against politicians.
A sharp turn to the right
The candidacies of Milei and Bullrich represent a sharp turn in Argentina to the right. They also signify the failure of the dialogue strategy promoted by Rodríguez Larreta, mayor of Buenos Aires and Bullrich’s rival in the opposition coalition, in the face of the iron-fisted policies and cuts in social spending that the two anticipate.
Milei wants to ban the legalization of abortion approved in 2020. She also defends the free carrying of weapons and believes that the sale of organs can be “one more market.” She promotes the closure of the ministries of Education and Social Development and “burning” the central bank, a step prior to a dollarization of the economy to end inflation. Bullrich, Mauricio Macri’s former Security Minister (2015-2017), promises to toughen laws against crime and put an end to blocking streets and highways as a form of protest. In economic policy, she ensures that her eventual government will receive enough dollars from abroad to direct the economy.
The coincidences between the two are great. Bullrich congratulated Milei “for the enormous choice she made” and highlighted the common desire that “the State is not a cave of La Cámpora”, in reference to the Kirchnerist group created by deputy Máximo Kirchner, son of former presidents Néstor and Cristina Kirchner. “It doesn’t exist anymore, Kirchnerism doesn’t exist anymore”, the supporters of Together for Change were excited, who also chanted “Patricia presidente”.
The message from the polls has been a very harsh vote of punishment for the ruling Peronism, but also for the coalition that remains in the hands of Bullrich. Millions of voters have turned their backs on the traditional political structures and have opted for that histrionic outsider who calls for “politicians to be kicked in the ass.”
Milei has won in important provinces with an opposition tradition, such as Córdoba and Santa Fe, the second and third most populous districts in the country, but also in Peronist strongholds both in the north —Tucumán, Salta, La Rioja and San Juan— and in Santa Cruz in Patagonia. , cradle of Kirchnerism.
The disappointment of those who voted for Fernández four years ago explains the worst defeat of Peronism in a primary since its implementation in 2011. If the result is repeated in the general elections, it will be the worst in an election for president since the return to democracy, in 1983 The voters of Fernández hoped to get out of the economic crisis, after a government, that of Macri, who delivered the country in 2019 with 50% inflation and unable to meet the maturities of a loan of 44,000 million dollars that the IMF had granted it only a year earlier. But the economic situation has only gotten worse since then.
Fernández failed to reduce poverty rates and added a sad paradox: many workers have jobs, but even then they can’t make ends meet. Massa does not give up. “This is the end of the first half. We have the second half left, the extension and the penalties, we will be fighting until the last minute, ”said the candidate of the pro-government Unión por la Patria when greeting his supporters. Neither the president, Alberto Fernández, nor the vice president, Cristina Kirchner, were on stage.
The Peronist candidate, Sergio Massa (left) embraces the governor of the province of Buenos Aires, Axel Kicillof, in the electoral command of the ruling party, on August 13, 2023. LUIS ROBAYO (AFP)
Buenos Aires, the Peronist refuge
The great hope of the ruling party remains in the hands of the governor of Buenos Aires, the Kirchnerist Axel Kicillof, who is running for re-election. This Sunday he was the candidate with the most votes in the largest district in the country, with 36.4%. Thus, he surpassed Juntos por el Cambio and La Libertad Avanza de Milei.
Together for Change will, on the other hand, keep its stronghold: the city of Buenos Aires. One in two voters chose the coalition created by Mauricio Macri. The inmate was won by his cousin, Jorge Macri, who seems to have paved the way to be the next mayor of the Argentine capital.
But the night was Milei’s. When she was already beginning Monday, she danced one last rock and roll with her family. The candidate chose the song Se viene, one of the great hits of Argentine rock that at the end of the nineties became a challenge to the neoliberal government of Carlos Menem and was a premonition of the corralito crisis in 2001. “The explosion is coming” says the chorus. He sang it throughout the room without fear of contradictions. Milei looks to Menem as an example, and the band, Bersuit Vergarabat, had banned her from using the song at their rallies. But the libertarian, once again, disobeyed.
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