Milei’s shock doctrine clashes with democracy

As a candidate, he undermined the country’s democratic consensus. As president, he seems intent on stretching democracy to its limits

Buenos Aires Herald editorial

Javier Milei’s disdain for democratic proceedings and institutions isn’t new, but his becoming president has translated into remarkable power grabs — and some seem happy with turning the presidential seat into something akin to a throne.

Giving his first official speech with his back to Congress was a symbolic beginning for the president, transitioning from an erratic yet controlling candidate to a leader who flatly disregards the Legislature and its elected officials.

Since the inauguration, Argentine society has been subjected to a series of institutional bombardments — the economic chainsaw plan announced via a botched video, the draconian anti-protest protocol, the unprecedented sweeping mega-decree, and finally this week, a gargantuan so-called “omnibus bill,” which attempts to indirectly change the Constitution. 

Within the 664-article bill is a call to declare a “public emergency,” which, if passed, would essentially mean that Milei could govern without going through Congress until 2025 unless he wants to extend that power for another two years. While Congress is scrambling to address all the issues on the table, the mega-decree has taken effect, bypassing people’s representatives. Milei even threatened to call for a referendum if the mega-decree was not approved: a power that he does not, in fact, have. 

All this in less than three weeks since taking office: the sheer enormity of the mega-decree and the omnibus bill means public discourse has been completely overwhelmed trying to keep up amid continuous protests and ensuing harsh police crackdowns. This aggressive oversaturation from all sides feels like a purposeful maneuver, with the harrowing promise that more is on the way.

In an op-ed published on Infobae, Treasury Prosecution Office head Rodolfo Barra justified the mega-decree by comparing Milei to a king. 

“Article 99.1 of the constitution states that our president is the ‘supreme head of the nation, chief of government and politically responsible for the general administration of the country’ […] This is to say that our president is a figure comparable to that of a king (like Spain) or Chief of State in the parliamentary governments,” Barra, a former neo-Nazi youth member, wrote

Thus far, the administration has shown a consistent pattern of ignoring Argentine history in its attempts to fundamentally change the state. Case in point, the presentation of the omnibus bill prominently featured the fact that it’s based on the 1853 Constitution (ignoring multiple reforms of the intervening 170 years). Judging from the op-ed, some ought to be reminded that we kicked out the Spanish viceroy in 1810. 

With that in mind, their apparent disregard for the rising social unrest is also of note: skyrocketing tensions and nationwide protests have many thinking back to the turmoil of the 2001 crisis. With the criminalization of protests and proposed restrictions on Argentines’ right to assembly put forward by a government with known military apologists, the ugly years of the last dictatorship are also on people’s minds. 

On the eve of the presidential election, we highlighted how Mileli’s campaign had severely undermined democratic consensus. We are now watching his administration purposefully push our 40-year-old democracy to its limits.


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