The two main national forces responsible for the famous rift in Argentine society, Juntos por el cambio and Unión por la Patria (representing the current government), are in shock over the sweeping victory of Libertad Avanza, whose leader is Javier Milei.
On August 13, Argentina held elections to choose the presidential pre-candidates, with a view to the October 22 national elections. These elections do not assign positions, but rather determine winners of the internal party elections. Until that moment, the majority forces were Unión por la Patria (born from center-left movement Kirchnerism, a variant of Peronism) and Juntos por el Cambio (born from Macrism, a center-right movement that emerged in 2003).
This unexpected triumph of Milei, an economist who defines himself as an anarcho-capitalist, changed the political map of Argentina. At a time when inflation exceeds 100 percent per year, society's disenchantment with politicians overcame the rift.
No poll was able to predict the 30.04 percent of votes for a completely new candidate who didn't seem to have made his mark in previous provincial elections. Most of his voters are young people in their 30s to people in their 50s. Milei proposes a very profound change in favor of austere politics and eliminating the “privileges of power.” A black swan emerged from the darkness that night.
Argentina's accumulated inflation in the last 12 months is 115.6 percent. When the economy is collapsing, retirees do not make it to the first days of the month, schools are malfunctioning, as are hospitals; when the streets are a mess of violence (residents of poor neighborhoods have to lock themselves in from 4 o'clock in the afternoon because of the bullets of drug dealers); when citizens are dying at the hands of armed teenagers who steal whatever they can find (bicycles, sneakers, motorcycles, backpacks, etc.); when blocks away from the country's capital, people do not have basic necessities such as drinking water, then, it does not matter if a candidate is center, left- or right-wing.
Milei is winning simply because he says what many people feel against what he has called “the political caste,” which has its own agenda, far removed from the pressing needs of the people.
This very new candidate, who formed a party only two years before the elections, lacking the structure to govern, with weird and frenetic rhetoric, emerges as the mirror of a boiling social situation. Many people are fed up with the irresponsible management of public money and the obscene spending of most politicians in the face of the misery of the unprotected citizens whom they represent. In situations like this one, there is an overflow that wants to break all institutions.
The trouble is that in this ‘fed-upness,’ anyone can come along, and that's what happened
It is not easy to decipher what Milei has in mind. He opposes abortion and promotes the freedom to bear arms; he is for gender freedom and drug legalization; he defines himself as an enemy of the state although he considers that justice and security should be in charge of the state; he has a difficult relationship with the Catholic Church but above all with the Pope whom he defines as a “Jesuit who promotes communism.”
This candidate considers only two categories: friends or enemies; he wants to “set fire” to the Central Bank; he has violent conflicts with journalists for criticizing him; he promises dollarization of the economy; he has sudden mood swings, shouts, and gets angry and then suddenly goes back to being calm.
In short, this is a dangerous situation. But even more dangerous is the reading that international right-wing politicians have made of this election. They have treated the case as if it were a partisan turn. Absolutely not. It is a cry of fed-upness!
This is not the first time this has happened in Argentina. In 2001, the link between citizens and their representatives broke, an event that coined the saying of the time: “¡Que se vayan todos!” (Everyone leaves).
The crisis of that year, in December, called the “cacerolazo,” was a political, economic, social and institutional turmoil. The popular revolt ended up with the demand for the resignation of President Fernando de la Rúa. This caused political instability; five presidents passed through the Executive Power in a few days, and finally, National Senator Eduardo Duhalde finished the four-year constitutional mandate. It was triggered by the ban on withdrawing bank deposits, called the “corralito.”
At that time, two forces emerged with distinct features: Kirchnerism (populist, center-left) and Macrism (pragmatic and conservative center-right), generators of the famous rift that divided the country for more than 20 years, which was not solved. People expressed their discontent and both forces lost a significant number of votes in this latest election.
Today, there will be two difficult and intense months of reconfiguration of the political chessboard. The economic catastrophe that marked the elections of August 13 got worse the following day with a devaluation of the Argentine peso. In these conditions, Argentinians will go through two months until the actual elections, where much can still change.
Even so, for having lived through the repeated political-economic crises and the dictatorship until 1983, which was horrendous, elections are welcome. We spent a long time deprived of that right. It is a day when people can express themselves and change history. So I will exercise it until the last day of my life.