On November 19, in the second round of the presidential election held in Argentina, Javier Milay, candidate of the far-right electoral alliance “Freedom Forward Party” defeated the candidate of the center-left ruling alliance “Fatherland Alliance” and the current Minister of Economy Serhi O. Massa was elected as the new President of Argentina. Before the current election, Milley and the policies he advocated had caused an uproar in Argentina and international public opinion. Milley’s victory in the presidential election has brought uncertainty to national and regional development. At the same time, his new regime also faces many challenges.
The rise of the “Millais phenomenon”
Milai initially stood out in the 2021 Argentine parliamentary mid-term elections. In December 2021, relying on the “Freedom Forward Party” he founded, Milai received 17.3% of the votes in Buenos Aires and was elected as a member of Congress. Before entering politics, Millais taught as an economist at a university and held positions in various businesses and public agencies. Milai became an “Internet celebrity” in Argentina’s economic circles by promoting liberal remarks and showing a critical image on TV programs and social networks. After Milley announced his candidacy for president in April 2022, it attracted more attention and formed a controversial phenomenon in Argentine politics – the “Milay phenomenon.”
One of the reasons for the rise of the “Millley phenomenon” is Millay’s almost crazy campaign ideas and perverse words and deeds. During the campaign, Milley described himself as an anarcho-capitalist and proposed a series of radical liberal policy proposals such as abolishing the central bank, dollarizing the economy, abolishing government departments, and cutting social welfare. He also advocated supporting the legalization of organ sales, implementing loose gun control policies, and prohibiting the legalization of abortion, which caused widespread controversy. With messy hair, wearing a shabby leather jacket, and wielding a chainsaw wildly, this is the typical image shown by Milai. He has repeatedly expressed his closeness to the United States and his admiration for former U.S. President Trump. Milley also received responses and support from Trump himself, and was nicknamed “Pampas Trump” by the media, corresponding to former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who was known as “Tropical Trump.” During the campaign, Milley adopted effective publicity strategies and social media marketing, interacting with voters through short videos and live broadcasts to increase voter participation.
Whether he can break out of the “new pink wave” in Latin America is one of the reasons why Millay has attracted much attention. Since 2018, left-wing parties have successively won general elections in many Latin American countries, ushering in the second wave of left-wing governance in the region since the new century. The victory of Milais, the representative of the far-right party, in the Argentine election may not only suspend the continued “left turn” trend in Latin America, but also interrupt the regional integration process led by left-wing forces. Another important background for the rise of the “Millay phenomenon” is that Argentina is facing severe socio-economic problems during this election. According to the British “Guardian” report, Argentina’s current annualized inflation rate has reached 140%, and about 40% of the population is in poverty. Argentina’s government and central bank coffers have been drained and it owes $44 billion to the International Monetary Fund. Therefore, the public hopes that the extreme alternative proposed by Milley can be a good solution to Argentina’s economic crisis.
Capture people’s desire for change
Although Milley successfully attracted the attention of public opinion, the primary reason that pushed Milley to the presidency was that he catered to the “change” mentality of the Argentine people. The economic and social development difficulties that Argentina has encountered in recent years are a microcosm of the country’s repeated experiences of hyperinflation, economic recession, and high foreign debt. Neither the Peronist party, which is based on populism, nor the center-right party, which uses elitism to govern the country, has provided an effective solution to Argentina’s economic ills. Against this background, the Argentine people are increasingly losing confidence in the traditional left-wing and left-wing political parties, and are instead placing their hopes on Milley, a “political amateur”, hoping that his subversive ideas can solve the chronic problems of Argentina’s development. Millais seized on the people’s demand for change and even bluntly stated in his victory speech that Argentina was facing a series of crises and there was no room for moderate compromise.
In addition, center-right political forces provided important support for Milley’s victory. In the history of Argentina, right-wing forces have long been associated with the dictatorial and autocratic rule of the military government, and thus became synonymous with violence, torture, disappearances and other crimes against humanity committed during the military government. Right-wing forces that lack a mass base have long lacked a voice in Argentina’s political arena. Since the 21st century, as right-wing forces have moved closer to the center, their voter base has continued to expand. In 2015, against the background of the poor performance of the center-left party alliance, Mauricio Macri, the candidate of the center-right party alliance “We Change”, won the Argentine general election. In the first round of voting in Argentina’s presidential election in October 2023, Milley ranked second with 30% of the vote, trailing the current Economy Minister Massa, who received 37% of the vote. Before the second round of voting, the center-right forces led by former President Macri announced their support for Milley, which played a crucial role in the latter’s reversal.
On October 22, 2023, after the first round of voting in the Argentine presidential election, far-right Electoral Alliance candidate Javier Millay gave a speech at the campaign headquarters.
Finally, the weakening of left-wing political power created conditions for Millais’ victory. The weakening of left-wing political power mainly stems from factional divisions within left-wing parties. Within the Justice Party, the relationship between the central faction represented by the Kirchner family and the local faction represented by Daniel Scioli has always been at odds. In the 2015 election, Scioli, the candidate recommended by the left-wing ruling coalition “Victory Front”, did not receive the full support of President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner. After Scioli lost the election, Cristina withdrew from the center of the political stage. The left-wing party alliance fell into the dilemma of missing a leader, and then its power in parliament was seriously weakened. In this general election, Massa, as the leader of the dissident within the Justice Party, competed for the position of President of Argentina in the name of Peronism, and encountered resistance from some people. Coupled with the accumulation of dissatisfaction with the government, the Argentine people shouted the slogan “I would rather choose the devil than Massa”. According to information released by Argentina’s National Electoral Commission on the evening of November 19, after counting 99.28% of the votes, Milai received 55.7% of the votes, and current Economy Minister Massa received 44.2% of the votes. The Associated Press pointed out that this was the largest gap in vote share in a presidential election since Argentina resumed democratic elections in 1983.
The damaged image of Argentina’s left-wing parties is not unrelated to the corruption scandals that have been frequently exposed in recent years. In 2017 and 2018, Julio DeVido, Minister of Planning in President Cristina’s Cabinet, and Vice President Amado Budu were arrested on corruption charges. In December 2022, the Argentine Federal Court sentenced Cristina to six years in prison and was banned from holding public office for life on charges of leading an illegal profit-making gang and accepting bribes during her tenure.
May not gain lasting support from the public
Milley’s victory in the general election may significantly change Argentina’s political ecology and economic and diplomatic development path. Faced with Millay’s victory, Latin American countries had mixed reactions. Most Latin American leaders congratulated Milley and called for joint cooperation. However, based on Millay’s pro-American and Western stance, Venezuelan President Maduro criticized Millay as a “neo-Nazi” and considered the latter a “huge threat” to Argentina and regional development; Colombian President Petro also said that the far-right Winning in Argentina would be sad for Latin America. Since Milley has long maintained close ties with former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and provoked and offended current President Lula during the campaign, Lula has temporarily maintained a cautious distance from Milley.
The governance challenges facing the new Milais government cannot be ignored. On the one hand, from a social perspective, Milley’s right-wing extremist policies may not gain lasting support from the public. First of all, the Peronist party still has great appeal and appeal in Argentina. In the history of Argentina, the Peronist party has long occupied a dominant position in Argentina’s political ecology and has a relatively stable social foundation. Secondly, despite the difficulties encountered in Argentina’s economic and social development in recent years, the achievements of the left-wing ruling coalition “Victory Front” for many years in power, especially social policies, are still recognized by some people. In recent years, while poverty rates have risen in Argentina, a large imbalance has emerged between public and private sector employment growth, with public sector employment growing significantly. A report by the Mediterranean foundation IERAL noted that public sector employment in Argentina increased by 34% between 2011 and 2022, while the private sector increased by only 3% during the same period. Therefore, if “shock” therapy is implemented after Milai comes to power, the Argentine people may not be able to endure the pain it will cause. With the results of economic reforms not yet obvious and social conflicts continuing to intensify, the Milais regime may be unsustainable.
On the other hand, Millay’s new regime will be restrained by various political forces. One is the strong resistance from the opposition in Congress. Judging from the current comparison of the strength of Congress, Argentina’s two traditional political forces – the center-left “Unite for the Fatherland” and the center-right “League for Change” occupy the vast majority of seats in both chambers, thus forming a “strong separation” of government and parliament. Political Structure. At the same time, Milley’s ruling coalition also suffers from the problem of internal dispersion and lack of governance advantages at the local level. The “Liberal and Progressive Party” formed by Millais is a loose organization that relies entirely on Millais’ personal influence and lacks organizational and system building. In addition, in this general election, although Milais won 21 of Argentina’s 24 provincial administrative regions, his organization did not hold the position of provincial governor anywhere. However, as a federal country, Argentina has a relatively high degree of autonomy for its provinces. Therefore, how to cooperate with traditional political forces, especially how to decentralize power with the center-right forces, is a difficult problem for Milley.
Overall, the key factor in Millay’s victory in the election was the concentrated expression of personal politics or factional politics in Argentina’s political ecology. Behind this was the combination of factors such as low institutionalization of Argentina’s political parties, weak governance capabilities, and the disconnect between political parties and society. As a result, the governance challenges faced are indeed huge. Therefore, after Milley was elected, the extreme positions and hard-line attitudes he adopted during his campaign have begun to soften. Milley not only showed pragmatism and flexibility in selecting cabinet candidates, but also gradually softened his rhetoric against China, Brazil and other BRICS countries. Currently, China is Argentina’s second largest trading partner and largest agricultural export market, and the two countries have always maintained good cooperation in international affairs. From the perspective of national interests, after Milai comes to power, China and Afghanistan will continue to find common ground and convergence of interests and continue to deepen practical cooperation between the two sides.