Radical far-right politician Javier Milei was unsuccessful in the initial round of Argentina’s presidential election, as moderate finance minister Sergio Massa surprisingly emerged as the victor over his extremist opponent.
Fans of Milei, a politically inexperienced individual known for using vulgar language, have compared him to a combination of Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and Boris Johnson from Argentina. They were optimistic that he would achieve a surprising and complete triumph similar to Bolsonaro’s unexpected win in Brazil in 2018.
Despite 99% of votes being counted, Massa, the Peronist candidate, emerged as the winner with 36.6% of the 27 million votes cast. In second place was Milei, who pledged to eliminate Argentina’s central bank and reject partnerships with major trading partners China and Brazil, with 29.9% of the vote. The third contender, conservative former security minister Patricia Bullrich, received approximately 23.8% of the votes.
Massa, who is 51 years old, and Milei, who is 53 years old, will compete in a second round on November 19th. To win outright, a candidate would have required over 45% of the votes or over 40% with a lead of at least 10 points over their nearest opponent.
Speaking to a large crowd of enthusiastic followers at his campaign headquarters, Massa delivered a serious speech promising to lead a unified government that would initiate “a fresh chapter in Argentina’s political past.” He assured them, “As president, I will not let you down,” and pledged to create “a nation free from doubt.” He emphasized, “Argentina is like a big family, and it requires someone who will tirelessly safeguard it.”
Milei encouraged disappointed supporters to acknowledge the “significant accomplishment” of making it to the final round just two years after their party, La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances), was established. He stated, “Today is a crucial day as two-thirds of Argentinians chose to embrace change,” and emphasized, “It’s now or never, either we evolve or we fail.”
The outcome sets Argentina up for another month of significant unpredictability, financial instability, and fabricated information leading up to the competition between Massa and Milei. A triumph for Massa is not guaranteed as a significant number of Bullrich’s conservative supporters may switch their vote to Milei.
On Sunday, Milei, known for his role as a TV commentator who often talks about tantric sex, confidently declared that he could form the “greatest government ever” if chosen by voters.
“I am determined to determine if Argentina can regain its stature as a powerful nation or if we will become the largest slum on the planet,” declared the disheveled populist as he pushed his way through a crowd of supporters and reporters to reach a university polling station.
Marcela Pagano, a TV reporter vying for a seat in Congress for the party La Libertad Avanza, anticipated that frustrated voters were ready to “remove” the established politicians who are held responsible for the 40% of citizens living in poverty and triple-digit inflation.
“I think he is the only person capable of reviving Argentina,” Pagano commented on Milei, who used a chainsaw as a symbol of his campaign, representing his intentions to cut government spending and dismantle the current political system.
Key figures from the far-right in South America traveled to Argentina with the expectation that a victory for Milei would give momentum to their movement. This comes after their prominent leader, Brazil’s Bolsonaro, lost his position to leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in October 2022.
Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of Bolsonaro’s congressman, made a trip to Buenos Aires to praise Milei’s “unstoppable movement” – a statement that the Argentinian newspaper Clarín said was a violation of the country’s electoral laws. Eduardo Bolsonaro declared that the current phenomenon seen in the streets is similar to what Brazil experienced in 2018, referencing his father’s overwhelming victory.
Left-leaning politicians from South America had also made appearances in Buenos Aires prior to the election to support Massa’s initially slow campaign. This included the involvement of Brazilian strategists who had aided Lula in defeating Bolsonaro in the significant election last year.
On the eve of Sunday’s election, a social media video produced in Brazil compared Milei to Bolsonaro and urged Argentinian voters to reject him. The narrator, speaking in Spanish, described Bolsonaro’s presidency as a nightmare in which hundreds of thousands of people died from Covid and Brazil became isolated on the global stage. The message emphasized that Argentina does not need to experience this.
The Massa poster campaign cautioned the public about Milei’s extreme beliefs, such as advocating for the legalization of selling human organs, and asserted that he would lead Argentina into an economic crisis similar to the one in 2001. One poster stated, “The Economist warns that Milei poses a threat to Argentine democracy. Do you really want to vote for him?”
After Milei’s surprising win in the primary election, Massa and his supporters intensified their efforts, proposing the elimination of income tax for the majority of citizens and aiming to distance themselves from former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
On Sunday, the results of these efforts were evident as citizens cast their votes to elect Argentina’s new president and vice-president, as well as approximately half of its 257-member congress, one-third of the senate, and various governors, including those of Buenos Aires city and province.
Axel Kicillof, a political ally of Massa running for reelection as governor of Buenos Aires province – a significant battleground in the elections, representing almost 40% of all voters in Argentina – exceeded expectations with a victory margin of almost 20%. The candidate supported by Milei placed third. “This result is a rejection of dictatorship,” Kicillof declared to his supporters, alluding to Milei’s minimizing of the number of casualties during Argentina’s military regime in his campaign.
Ramiro Marra, Milei’s pick for mayor of Buenos Aires, came in third place with a mere 13.9% of the votes.
Disappointed followers of Milei who had assembled outside their leader’s hotel alleged, without proof, that the election had been manipulated, similar to how Bolsonaro supporters reacted after his defeat in the 2022 Brazilian election.
“It hurts my soul. I expected he’d win in the first round. I was surprised,” admitted Ivan González, a 22-year-old Mileísta who wore a Donald Trump hat and carried a yellow Gadsden flag – an American Revolution-era banner used by the US extreme right and Milei’s movement.
González accused Milei’s adversaries of spreading fear in their campaign and attributing it to their loss on Sunday. However, he remained confident that he could still achieve victory in the second round.