Off came the band-aid. Months of anticipation, speculation, oscillation, and doubt were resolved on Sunday around 8 p.m., an hour ahead of schedule, with what felt like relatively little fanfare. Argentina went to bed, coming to terms with its step into the unknown.
One thing was clear, though: Javier Milei’s win was resounding. Most pollsters had predicted a tight race. Preemptive (and unsubstantiated) allegations of fraud out of the Milei camp suggest they had thought the same. It’s worth noting that those concerns, voiced over weeks as a fait accompli, vanished in a matter of minutes, almost as if they had never existed.
The libertarian bested Peronist candidate and current Economy Minister Sergio Massa, winning 56% of the vote to Massa’s 44%. Milei swept all but four of Argentina’s 23 provinces (and the country’s autonomous capital city), winning Peronist stronghold provinces like Santa Cruz (home of VP Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) in Patagonia and Salta in the northwest. Argentina turned purple.
What happened? Milei captured most of Argentina’s “orphan votes,” whose first-round choices were eliminated. Supporters of Juntos por el Cambio’s Patricia Bullrich and Hacemos por Nuestro País’ Juan Schiaretti (an anti-Kirchnerist Peronist) in that order, were the prized undecideds going into this election. And while it seemed clear that many of Bullrich’s voters would swing to Milei, it was less obvious how Schiarretti’s supporters would fall.
Milei has worked to moderate his rhetoric these past weeks, shifting the focus from his more controversial policies and talking points. Many political orphans found a home in his criticisms of Kirchnerism and the current government’s failure to stabilize the economy.
This election ultimately lends weight to the argument that people tend to vote with their wallets. It was always an uphill battle for Massa, the economy minister of a country with 143% inflation, stagnant GDP growth, and an ever-depreciating currency. Ultimately, voters elected to jump into uncertainty rather than stick with what they saw as the status quo.
As a result, Milei will assume the presidency on December 10 with a sound mandate, given the margin by which he won.
What can we expect in the short term? Six hard months, according to Milei himself. Per the president-elect, a “shock” fiscal adjustment is coming, and even then, the results “will not be instantaneous,” as he said in an interview earlier this week with economic consultant Manuel Adorni.
Milei aims to bring Argentina’s fiscal deficit (currently at more than 3% of GDP) to zero in order to pay off Argentina’s debts, principally with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The president-elect has vowed to renegotiate Argentina’s debt deal with the Fund. The country has upcoming payments to make on its US$44 billion deal with the international lender and negligible net foreign currency reserves with which to pay.
In his victory speech on Sunday, Milei said there’s “no room for gradualism,” suggesting that he’ll use his presidential honeymoon, no matter how short, to get moving on some of these key action items – particularly the fiscal adjustment and zero deficit target.
To that end, Milei announced a number of top-priority targets for privatization, a key element of his goal to slash the size of the Argentine state. Oil and gas giant YPF, energy group Enarsa, and Argentina’s state-funded media outlets are all in Milei’s crosshairs. Those selloffs, particularly of Enarsa and YPF, would generate substantial short-term funds, though obviously long-term revenues would be lost.
The incoming president spent much of his week in talks with past objects of scorn. On Tuesday he met for over two hours with outgoing President Alberto Fernández to discuss the presidential transition. Fernández’s office described the meeting as “friendly, respectful, and institutional.”
Milei also received congratulations from Pope Francis, whom the libertarian had once described as a “communist” and the representative of evil on Earth. During the first presidential debate, Milei noted that he had since apologized to the spiritual leader of more than two-thirds of Argentines.
A number of foreign leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, called Milei to congratulate him on his victory. Others, like Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Chilean President Gabriel Boric, and Colombian President Gustavo Petro, extended chilly congratulations on X (formerly Twitter). It is unclear whether they will attend Milei’s inauguration, suggesting a potentially rocky road ahead for his regional politics.
On the home front, Milei unofficially confirmed a number of ministers and that his government will have just eight ministries, half of the current number. They will be the ministries of economy, foreign relations, security, interior, defense, and justice, as well as infrastructure and human capital. The latter two “Frankenstein’s ministries,” as we’ll call them, are both amalgamations of numerous current cabinet-level agencies.And what of Sergio Massa? During his concession speech, the economy minister announced his retirement from politics. Having appointed a four-person transition group to coordinate with Milei’s economy team, Massa later said that he would remain in office until Alberto Fernández’s term ends on December 10.