Javier Milei

Javier Milei greets supporters after winning the 2023 presidential runoff. (AP)

Libertarian Javier Milei Wins Argentina's Presidency in Runoff

By Chase Harrison

In a rebuke to the status quo, Milei takes office in December with plans to downsize the state. We look at runoff results and what he’ll face in Congress.

On November 19, libertarian Javier Milei triumphed in Argentina’s presidential runoff, defying poll expectations to win by more than 11 points. “Today begins Argentina's reconstruction, today begins the end of decadence,” Milei said in his victory speech. “The impoverishing model of the omnipresent state is coming to an end.” Milei takes office December 10.

His victory was broad and deep, given that he won in 20 of Argentina’s 23 provinces, as well as in the capital of Buenos Aires. Economy Minister Sergio Massa conceded defeat before official results were announced. Massa himself defied expectations by winning the first round, despite his role in a government that has overseen inflation upwards of 140 percent.

The runoff result is a rebuke to the leftist Peronist faction, which has held the Argentine presidency for most of the twenty-first century. Milei has promised dramatic changes that range from eliminating government ministries to dollarizing the economy. But even with a landslide win giving him a strong mandate from the public, the right-wing president-elect is likely to face obstacles in Congress, where his coalition is the third-biggest in both chambers of Congress. Massa’s coalition, meanwhile, holds the most seats in each chamber, though no majority in either.

The world reacts

Given the stakes in this election, Argentina’s election drew global attention. And, in a region that had been marked by a leftward turn over the past few years, it was uncertain how Latin America’s leaders might react to a Milei win.

Brazil, Argentina’s top trade partner, was the first of the country’s direct neighbors whose president responded to the results on X, formerly known as Twitter. While he did not mention Milei by name, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said, “Democracy is the voice of the people, and it must always be respected.” He congratulated Argentina for its electoral process and wished the incoming government “good luck and success.” From Chile, Gabriel Boric said, “I salute Javier Milei for his victory” and went on to write he would work “tirelessly” for the two countries to continue working together. Uruguay’s Luis Lacalle Pou, Paraguay’s Santiago Peña, and Bolivia’s Luis Alberto Arce—in that order—also congratulated Milei.

Colombia’s Gustavo Petro at once recognized the incoming president but described the win as “sad for Latin America.” As of Sunday night, Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador had not recognized Milei’s victory, although Foreign Secretary Alicia Bárcena congratulated Argentina for holding peaceful elections and said her ministry will be “ready to work with the new Argentine government.”

Similarly, though U.S. President Joe Biden had not weighed in on the results as of the end of the election night, Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Milei and wrote on X: “We look forward to continuing bilateral cooperation based on shared values and interests.” Ex-President Donald Trump celebrated the Milei victory with a message to “make Argentina great again.” While Milei has threatened to break ties with China, that country’s foreign ministry recognized his win and announced Monday that it is “ready to work with Argentina.”

Congressional composition

Milei’s agenda to carry dramatic change could face a major obstacle: Congress. Voters picked legislators on October 22 during the first round of the election and Milei has a minority of support there. His faction, Liberty Advances, holds just seven out of 72 Senate seats and 38 out of 257 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The Peronists hold the largest number of seats in both chambers.

However, in the runoff, Milei won the support of some leaders from the conservative opposition coalition Together for Change, including from former presidential nominee Patricia Bullrich and ex-President Mauricio Macri. Milei will need to win backing from this bloc, which is the second-biggest force in each chamber. The degree to which he can do so is not yet certain, given that prominent leaders of Together for Change refused to support Milei in the campaign. In addition, members of Milei’s own coalition disagreed with partnering with Macri and Together for Change

Beyond Congress, Liberty Advances has no governors or major city mayors, resulting in additional limits for Milei in Argentina’s federal system.


Economic expectations

Before serving as a national deputy for Buenos Aires, Milei promoted his libertarian economic ideas through his work at a think tank, books, and radio appearances. And with 86 percent of Argentines saying they think the country’s economic situation has worsened, voters demonstrated an openness to a new school of economic policy.

Milei wants to solve Argentina’s currency crisis by dollarizing the economy, though there are doubts about how he will accomplish this goal. Milei’s dollarization plan also pitched getting rid of the country’s Central Bank, though in his victory speech he said he wants to reform the institution.

The central bank is not the only government institution Milei may want to shrink. He has proposed reducing the number of government ministries from 18 to eight. This would be complemented by reducing state spending by up to 15 percent of GDP. 

In some of his first statements as president-elect, Milei said he wanted to privatize the state oil company, as well as the state TV, radio, and news agencies.

Foreign affairs outlook

If Javier Milei succeeds in his plan for dollarization, it would bring Argentina closer to the United States. Milei has expressed an emphatic desire to have close ties with Washington, and he is also an ally of Trump.

During the campaign, Milei vowed to not trade with “communist countries,” which he sees as including Argentina’s two biggest trading partners, Brazil and China. He later backtracked and said he would let the private sector decide whether to maintain trade ties. In the past, Milei advocated for Argentina to leave Mercosur, the South American trading bloc that also includes Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Milei has also said he does not want to see Argentina join BRICS, a group of countries that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Milei’s relationship to China could prove tricky, as Beijing has been one of Argentina’s biggest lenders. It is currently extending an $18 billion currency swap line to help Argentina finance its debt. 

Milei has critiqued Argentina’s support for Ukraine as lukewarm. On the Israel-Palestine conflict, Milei is a staunch supporter of Israel and has vowed to move Argentina’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

Socially conservative convictions

Milei does not believe in climate change, wants to end gay marriage and sex education in schools, hopes to loosen gun laws, and opposes reproductive rights.  In December 2020, Argentina decriminalized abortion in the first 14 weeks of a pregnancy, and Milei has pledged to hold a referendum on whether to overturn that decision. 

The Argentine-born Pope Francis has been an object of Milei’s ire. Milei called the religious leader a “filthy leftist.”

Milei’s vice president, Victoria Villarruel, shares his social conservatism. She has been seen as a defender of Argentina’s dictatorship, questioning the number of civilians killed and proposing closing the Museum of Memory. Milei, too, has questioned the severity of the dictatorship

Carin Zissis and Jon Orbach contributed to this article.