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ARGENTINA | 19-05-2022 21:22

Javier Milei’s star continues to rise – at the expense of traditional politicians

Libertarian economist continues to dominate the headlines while capitalising on voters’ rejection of both the Peronist government and the troubled opposition coalition.

Argentina’s Peronist president and his vice-president stopped talking to each other weeks ago. The main leaders of the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition are at loggerheads. The economic crisis is tightening and in the face of the troubles facing traditional politicians, libertarian economist and outspoken provocateur Javier Milei is capitalising on discontent in Argentina.

The country’s US$45-billion debt contracted by former president Mauricio Macri, the new agreement President Alberto Fernández signed with the International Monetary Fund to refinance it, fiscal discipline and inflation are fuelling internal disputes in the two main political blocs.

And although the presidential election is more than a year away and he does not even have a nationwide party structure, Milei is rising in the polls with his furious attacks on the political "caste" and an offer that in Argentina today represents the ultimate fantasy: deciding to dollarise the economy again.

 

‘Real and strong’

"The fight within the ruling party is real and strong. It is not a sham, it is not short term. There is not only a personal disagreement, the president has also understood that he must assert his institutional role," political analyst Carlos Fara told AFP, referring to Alberto Fernández's clash with his Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

The former president, who governed from 2007 to 2015, was the architect of Fernández's candidacy, but reproaches of the government are increasing every day, expressed either through metaphors and insinuations, or with blunt phrases from those politically closest to her.

"There is an important conceptual difference between the two. They were also ambiguous when they made their electoral agreement," said Fara, explaining how they have arrived at their mutual disenchantment.

The conflict is taking place in the midst of very high inflation (projected to clear 60 percent in 2022), which is considered by most Argentines to be their biggest problem, according to a recent survey of political satisfaction and public opinion conducted by the University of San Andrés.

According to a poll by the Ricardo Rouvier & Asociados consultancy firm carried out in April, Fernández de Kirchner has a 35.9 percent voting intention for the 2023 presidential elections, while Fernández’s stands at 33.8 per cent.

"The president's bet is on economic recovery. If inflation goes down, he will say that it was necessary to have a little patience. But if it doesn't, Cristina [Fernández de] Kirchner will claim she was right when she called for changes," said Fara.

For Francisco Galán, a 17-year-old student and follower of Milei, the controversy between president and vice-president "is just a strategy by Cristina to distance herself from the problems. Someone else is always responsible for the problems: the capitalists, the pandemic, the war..."

 

Stunning arrival

When the ruling Frente de Todoscoalition lost its majority in the Senate in last year's legislative elections, it was an erosion that happened faster than expected. The collapse was exploited by both Macri's coalition and Milei's new radical right-wing movement.

But for Juntos por el Cambio, that advance has now become a problem, with several of its top leaders, including Macri (with 33.3 percent voting intention) and Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta (44.7 percent), all seeking the presidential nomination for the October 2023 elections.

"Last year's triumph accelerated the hunger for power. The pending debates, especially the conclusions about Macri's government, had not been given because of the pandemic and now they end up surfacing in public, in the worst way," considered Fara.

In the meantime, Milei is ramping up eye-catching events, whether it’s raffling off his monthly salary as a member of Congress or presenting his new book, El camino del libertario, at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair, where hundreds of young people lined up for more than two hours to get his autograph.

Sociologist Sol Montero, from the Universidad Nacional San Martín, says that Milei is especially popular among young people under 30, who do not feel represented by traditional politicians, who by and large did not take them into account during the pandemic.

"Milei capitalises on a mood of permanent indignation. These are young people who have lived through everything that has been bad and wonder what is the point of voting for [Fernández de] Kirchner or Macri. They perceive them as millionaires who have already governed and solved nothing."

In the Rouvier poll, Milei has a voting intention of 37.7 percent of Argentines.

Celso Silva, a 25-year-old nurse who queued up to get the libertarian's signature, says he admires him. He admits that he used to be a Macri backer, “but when he started to get us into debt, that's when I said ‘Never again.'”

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by Nina Negrón, AFP

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