Latin American leftists are rejoicing over the defeat of Javier Milei’s bid for a first-round win in Argentina’s presidential election. The far-right populist was defeated by his centrist opponent Sergio Massa.
Milei, an oddball economist who has called climate change a “socialist lie” and the pope “a lefty son of a bitch”, had hoped an explosion of anti-establishment rage would catapult him into the presidency on Sunday as 27 million Argentinians turned out to vote amid the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
However, despite being considered the favorite candidate, Milei was ultimately beaten by Peronist finance minister Massa, who earned 36.6% of the votes compared to Milei’s 29.9%. The two will now compete in a second-round election on November 19th.
The unexpected defeat of Milei was celebrated by Colombia’s leftist president, Gustavo Petro, dealing a harsh disappointment to members of the far right around the world who were hoping for a victory that would demonstrate their strength.
Petro tweeted that Argentina has overcome barbarism and that now is a time for hope.
The president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who leans towards the left, also celebrated a surprising outcome that was not predicted by most surveys. According to the Argentinian newspaper Clarín, Lula allegedly messaged Massa privately, saying “Impressive, my friend.”
Celso Amorim, Lula’s main adviser for foreign policy, described the outcome as a source of “relief and renewed optimism”. However, he also warned that the fight is not yet finished. Paulo Pimenta, Lula’s communications minister, expressed his support for democracy through a tweet that said “Long live democracy!”
During his speech to supporters in Buenos Aires on Sunday night, Milei reframed his loss as a positive outcome, stating that his presence in the election runoff was a truly historic accomplishment.
Milei, a television celebrity who only entered politics in 2021, called on all opponents of Massa’s Peronist coalition to unite against what he called the “criminal organization” he blames for triple-digit inflation and plunging 40% of Argentina’s 46 million citizens into poverty.
Milei urged that by collaborating, we have the potential to achieve victory and restore our country. Milei’s goal is to attract supporters from the 6.3 million voters who supported Patricia Bullrich, the conservative former security minister who came in third place. It is anticipated that a significant portion of the 2.5 million votes received by the fourth and fifth-ranked centre-left and left-wing candidates, Juan Schiaretti and Myriam Bregman, will transfer to Massa.
Bullrich hinted that she would support Milei after conceding defeat on Sunday evening. She promised to never be complicit with the Peronist populists she believes have caused poverty in Argentina and led to the country’s worst government ever.
Key figures from the far right in Latin America rejected the idea that Milei’s second-place finish was a failure. Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, arrived in Buenos Aires with hopes of celebrating a far-right victory similar to his father’s 2018 election in Brazil. According to him, Milei is the favorite to win the second round.
Bolsonaro posted a popular video of an Argentinian citizen voting while dressed as a chainsaw, which symbolizes Milei’s campaign to decrease spending and dismantle Argentina’s political system. This was seen as evidence that Bolsonaro’s movement is an unstoppable force.
However, the disappointment of Mileístas was evident outside the high-end hotel where the self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalist” had set up his campaign base. Disheartened supporters of Milei who had congregated outside the structure in hopes of a victory in the first round, which did not occur, alleged without proof that the election had been manipulated.
“It pains me deeply. I had anticipated that he would win in the initial round. I was taken aback,” confessed Iván González, a 22-year-old follower of Milei who sported a Donald Trump hat and proudly waved a yellow Gadsden flag – a symbol associated with the far-right in America and the Milei movement.
González attributed the setback on Sunday to Massa’s “scare tactics” during the campaign, but he remains optimistic about a potential victory in the second round.
According to Brian Winter, the editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, it is difficult to determine which of the two candidates is currently favored to win the presidential election. Winter believes that Milei’s lack of success can be attributed to voters having reservations about his personality, leadership skills, and extreme beliefs. These beliefs include advocating for looser gun control laws, questioning the reported number of deaths during Argentina’s dictatorship from 1976-1983, and legalizing the sale of human organs.
Winter believed that Milei’s campaign may have deterred certain voters by heavily focusing on divisive topics like abortion and gun culture, and also by appearing aligned with conservative figures like Trump and Bolsonaro.
“I believe that the individuals responsible for creating memes featuring Milei, Bolsonaro, and Trump did not benefit Milei in any way. While this conservative ideology may garner 30% support in Argentina, it is not enough to reach the majority of 50%,” Winter stated. “Argentina is not comparable to Brazil or Texas. A pro-gun agenda will not be successful in Argentina.”
Despite this, Winter maintained that Milei still had a chance to win if he could garner the backing of influential political figures, including former conservative president Mauricio Macri, and present a more moderate image to voters. Winter stressed that Argentina is a nation where people are eager for change, so it would be unwise to underestimate Milei’s chances.
On Twitter, Michael Reid, a seasoned observer of Latin America, stated that either candidate could emerge victorious but Massa currently has a more favorable path to the presidency compared to Milei. Reid believes that Milei has lost his political momentum, which is a crucial factor in his campaign, and it may be difficult for him to regain it.