Argentina: Can Milei’s “Radical, Untested” Ideas Supplant Peronist Clientelism?

Such relationships will require Milei to take a more moderated stance than his election rhetoric suggests since he will require legislative and gubernatorial partners to govern, say observers. Furthermore, the size of his majority reflects the degree of popular discontent with the government and antipathy towards entrenched Peronist mismanagement and corruption.

By triumphing over the ruling Union for the Homeland party’s candidate, Milei’s victory has dealt a major blow to the powerful Peronist movement that has long been influential in the country, Foreign Policy adds. When he takes office on Dec. 10, one of his biggest challenges will be taking charge of an economy in free fall: More than 40 percent of Argentines are living in poverty, while inflation has soared to 143 percent.

More concerning, Milei appears to embrace apologia for the country’s most recent military dictatorship, which governed between 1976 and 1983 and was responsible for a hideous Dirty War that saw up to 30,000 people, primarily leftist political opponents, disappeared and killed, The Postreports:

He reviles the legacy of the late Raul Alfonsin, Argentina’s first democratically elected leader after that period of dictatorship, whose effigy Milei once said he uses as a punching bag. Milei’s running mate, Victoria Villarruel, is a lawyer who has campaigned on defending the record of the military dictatorship, and who wants to end ongoing prosecution of military personnel involved in the Dirty War and suspend the state pension program that was implemented to support families of its victims. Milei’s victory, in a sense, is an affirmation of this revisionist vision.

“It used to be toxic for politicians in Argentina to deny the dictatorial past,” Argentine historian Federico Finchelstein told The Post. But the current moment “shows that Argentine political culture regarding dictatorship and the past has degraded significantly,” he added, gesturing to the animus also on show among Trump and Bolsonaro supporters. “This cannot be good for the democratic future.” Such nostalgia “in both the U.S. and Brazil also led to coups,” he said.

Argentina’s chief democratic success has been “the forging of a broad societal consensus against military intervention and in defense of human rights. I worry that great achievement is now being threatened,” said Harvard University’s Steven Levitsky, a Journal of Democracy contributor.

The presidents of Chile and Colombia overestimated their mandates. #Argentina’s next leader #Milei2023 can avoid a similar path, @patricionavia writes for @AmerQuarterly

— Democracy Digest (@demdigest) November 22, 2023

On the other hand…

Given recent election victories for the Peronists’ hard leftist allies in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and other countries, today’s election in Argentina can be seen as a referendum on the future of Latin America itself. This makes Milei’s win even more significant, analysts suggest.

Milei is steeped in neoliberal economics, as he displays in a three-hour interview with The Economist:

He wants to privatize all the sclerotic state companies, dollarize the economy and reduce the country’s deficit to zero in his first year. His political and economic models, he says, are Australia, Israel, Ireland and New Zealand. For years talk of free-market capitalism has been a guaranteed vote-loser in bloated, statist Argentina. Past attempts to liberalize have all faltered.

Yet if Mr. Milei wins the election next month the country could, in theory, become again a laboratory for exciting, dynamism-promoting ideas, the paper adds.

This article is published courtesy of the National Endowment for Democracy.