“Por aquí las elecciones presidenciales fueron un desastre! Pero todavía queda una chance de sacar a estos ladrones populistas y que gane nuestro pollo el loco Milei!! Ojalá así sea!” (Here the presidential elections were a disaster! But there is still a chance to kick out these populist thieves and have our crazy peacock Milei win!! I hope it will be so!)
So declared Ignacio “Nacho” Elorza, my libertarian Argentine climbing buddy and petroleum geologist, in response to the October 22 Argentine general elections, where Javier Milei, the Libertarian hopeful, garnered 30% of the vote against Sergio Massa, the incumbent Peronist economy minister candidate’s 37%.
The Peronists pulled out all the stops. Massa handed out the equivalent of $100 to all pensioners, and then eliminated income tax for 99% of all workers.
General election rules stipulate that a candidate must receive a simple majority. Where more than two candidates are running, the winner must receive more than 40% of the votes with also at least 10 percentage points more than the runner-up. There were three candidates in the general election. Javier Milei, the libertarian (profiled on September 23 in these pages), who had been the frontrunner — by a hefty margin; Patricia Bullrich, candidate of the Together for Change center-right free market coalition; and Sergio Massa of the ruling Peronists. Bullrich, who only received 24% of the votes, is now out. A runoff between Milei and Massa is scheduled for November 19.
Taking a page from the playbooks of Letitia James, Jack Smith, and other anti-Trump prosecutors, Argentine federal prosecutor Fernando Picardi — at the behest of Peronist President Alberto Fernandez — launched a criminal case against Milei on October 13 (only nine days before the general election), accusing him of inciting public fear, of trying to scare the public, and asserting that his actions were “a severe affront to the democratic system.” This curiously subjective charge carries a possible prison term of up to six years.
So how did Milei panic the public and shake the very roots of democracy? He urged Argentines to put their savings into dollars and abandon the Argentine peso. He was the frontrunner; his opinion carried weight. After this announcement, the Argentine peso rose from 1,000 to the dollar to only 800 to the dollar. But when Massa — against expectations — beat Milei in the preliminary general election, the peso plunged to 1,100 to the dollar.
The Peronists pulled out all the stops. As economy minister, Massa handed out the equivalent of $100 to all pensioners, and then eliminated income tax for 99% of all workers. As if that weren’t enough, days before the election government trucks delivered refrigerators, building materials, and mattresses to voters in poor neighborhoods. Posters for Milei and Bullrich were removed from slum districts; one message at a train station warned that under Milei or Bullrich fares would rise from $.16 to $1. Reports of threats from thugs intimidating voters and businesses about how to vote were numerous.
But hope has not died. Bullrich refused to congratulate Massa on his victory and has endorsed Milei.
The voting percentage reversal is “astounding,” according to The Economist (October 28): “It may seem baffling that the steward of Argentina’s deteriorating economy has a good chance of becoming the next president.” Not to mention that Massa’s generous handouts directly increase inflation.
But hope has not died. Bullrich refused to congratulate Massa on his victory and has endorsed Milei. She and Mauricio Macri, a reformist free-market previous president, have both vowed to work with Milei.