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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 14-04-2023 09:58

Still mucking around with Milei

Argentina's outspoken libertarian expresses a civic frustration that promises unpredictable consequences – it would suit politics to take him seriously and stop playing with fire.

With the same logic with which the two coalitions running the country and its provinces for the last 20 years disown their misrule, while living immersed in their eternal infighting instead of maturing towards state policies of sustainable development and economic distribution, neither do they feel responsible for having fed the Javier Milei phenomenon.

Taking him as a Godzilla of politics (to equate him with the Japanese comic monster destroying everything in his path), they have bet on his presidential candidacy proving to be a sham – that as the months go by, he will be taken to be a fictional character, becoming merely media popcorn entertainment.

Similar global phenomena have been similarly underestimated, such as the cases of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro or the rise of far-right leaders in Italy, France, Spain and Chile, to give some well-known examples. That will not happen here, Argentine leaders say with a certain bravado, having seemingly forgotten the “begone with them all” attitude of 2001 and the historic electoral atomisation of 2003 with barely 10 percentage points separating five leading presidential candidates (Carlos Menem, Néstor Kirchner, Ricardo López Murphy, Elisa Carrió and Adolfo Rodríguez Saá). 

To such amnesia should be added rashness. Some sectors of the ruling Frente de Todos coalition even cheer Milei on, according to the strategic logic that the libertarian basically expresses an opposition vote, thus bleeding into Juntos por el Cambio’s support base and permitting the government to be more competitive.

That perhaps explains why on various occasions the government has brought him to the fore as a wake-up call. The most recent – and it will not be the last time – was when President Alberto Fernández somehow compared him to Adolf Hitler on Radio Perfil.

This self-seeking exercise is not just theoretical and dialectical. In different parts of the country (Chubut, Salta, La Rioja and others) and especially Buenos Aires Province (where at least 40,000 scrutineers will be required), the construction of Milei feeds off many Peronist leaders and contributions of obscure origins, enmeshed with the “caste” against whom he proclaims combat so much.

Juntos por el Cambio has taken note of this process after a fashion. To seduce Milei supporters, they harvest liberal thinking, advancing towards an agreement with José Luis Espert in Buenos Aires Province, similar to that already rehearsed in Buenos Aires City with López Murphy in the 2021 midterms. At the same time, certain leaders close to Macri, especially Patricia Bullrich, are accentuating their winks in public (while multiplying them behind the scenes) towards the libertarian leader.

Amber lights (an appropriate enough colour) have started flashing in PRO over such tactics. The opposition’s qualitative analysis of public opinion is sounding the alert that if Bullrich is defeated by Rodríguez Larreta in the PASO primaries, there is a risk of the defeated candidate’s voters flocking to Milei. Even frustrated leaders could mutate, as national deputy Omar De Marchi is threatening to do in Mendoza.

The alarms over the opinion polls have also sounded in the hapless electoral labs of the government when infighting gives them a breathing-space. It’s not just about the growth in the voting intentions for the leader of La Libertad Avanza – the move of Peronist support is being consolidated, especially in the most neglected areas of Greater Buenos Aires while projections are beginning to appear placing him in the run-off instead of Frente de Todos.

In the responses of potential voters, which are often difficult to obtain, concepts of liberty or the state as the enemy, themes highlighted by Milei early on in his candidacy, do not arise. What does appear, and is growing all the time, is social fatigue and the idea of punishing much of the political class. The recent act of aggression against Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni after the murder of a bus-driver has been interpreted within this framework by some circles of power, over and above the intricate conspiracy theories which Kirchnerism and its satellites put forward.

Milei expresses a civic “I’m fed up” with unpredictable consequences. It would suit politics to take him seriously and stop playing with fire.

Javier Calvo

Javier Calvo

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