A cloudy election day didn’t stop cheerful Javier Milei supporters from taking to the capital on Sunday as libertarian voters flooded downtown Buenos Aires and the streets surrounding the Hotel Libertador.
A lively percussion ensemble backed supporters’ chants as cries of "Liberty" and "Freedom" swept the streets. Nearby, Milei’s lion mascot waved the Argentine flag with one hand and fist-pumped with the other. With special guest appearances from fancy dress characters including Batman, a bumblebee, and Friday the 13th character Jason Voorhees, the La Libertad Avanza gathering started off with an energy that was soon shaking the city.
“We want a change,” said Rosi C, who had been waiting for Milei since noon, in an interview as she awaited the candidate’s arrival. “Sometimes we might not agree with everything he says, but it’s a change.”
The Hotel Libertador, Milei's base camp for the PASO primaries back in August and last night's election, was quickly surrounded with supporters swarming in by the hundreds. Kids sat on their parent’s shoulders shouting "Milei Presidente!” and holding La Libertad Avanza's signature yellow flag with an image of a roaring lion.
Noise attacked the senses from all around. Aggressive rock music was blasted through a speakerphone whilst a masked man ran through crowds, starting a mosh pit. With passionate voices they shouted, “Que se vayan todos!” and “La casta tiene miedo!” — Milei's now-classic catchphrases that condemn Argentina's political class as a corrupt elite only interested in filling their own pockets.
“This is a historic moment,” said 49-year-old Daniel R, who travelled from Mendoza to take part. “We are all very confident that he will win in the second round.”
Come 9pm, as people scrambled to check projection results, a tenseness overcame the crowd. What once was a group bustling with energy and confidence quickly dwindled into disappointed murmurs as the news broke that Unión por la Patria candidate Sergio Massa led with 35.9 percent of votes, leaving Milei trailing on just under 30 percent.
“I feel a bit upset,” admitted Sebastián Álvarez, 35, who works in foreign trade, in an interview. “Honestly, I thought it would be other numbers, but things aren’t all said and done. There is still a chance for things to take a different turn.”
Nineteen-year-old Joaquína Prelat could not believe that Massa had made it to the run-off, but she and her friends were confident their hero would win in the end.
“We kind of knew that we [Milei’s party] wouldn’t win the first round. It was a battle well fought,” said Prelat’s brother Esteban, 21. “After the run-off, I’m sure Milei will win.”
Late into the evening, after a long night full of ups and downs, the candidate finally made his way onstage. Frowns turned into chants as screaming intensified.
Met with a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday' from supporters— the economist turned 53 on election day — Milei tried on a”Make Argentina Great Again” cap as he greeted supporters and took to the microphone.
“There has never been an election clearer than this one in our history,” Milei said as supporters cheered without end. ¨If we work together, we can win!"
“Now, it's time to convince Patricia Bullrich voters to switch over to Milei,” commented Ángel Vincent, 31, a logistics delivery mechanic, as he looked ahead to the run-off.
The third-largest group of voters went to Bullrich and her 23.6 percent share could swing the second round decisively on November 19.
A tumultuous Argentina still has a month left to see who will have the future of the country in their hands.
by Montserrat Pagan & Andrea Puerto