Is Argentina poised to elect a populist right-wing government this year? The country will have presidential elections in October, and according to recent polling, the leading candidate is parliamentarian Javier Milei of the Freedom Moves Forward party. Milei, who describes himself as a libertarian and an “anarcho-capitalist”, is a controversial radical right-wing populist known for denouncing the political “caste” that governs Argentina, meaning both the leftist kirchnerists who are in power as well as the right-wing opposition. He is polling nationally at 17% to 22% for the August primaries that will determine each party’s candidate in the general election.
Milei has a high chance of performing strongly in the first round, for two reasons. First, there is a political vacuum within Argentina’s leadership. Neither coalition has star candidates. Both the sitting president, Alberto Fernandez of Together for Change, and former centre-right president Mauricio Macri have announced that they will not seek re-election. On the left, this leaves vice-president Cristina Fernandez, who is appealing a six-year prison sentence for alleged corruption, and Sergio Massa, the current finance minister, who has been unable to rein in rampant inflation. The opposing Front for All’s potential candidates also do not stir any passions. Milei is already stealing votes away from both sides: of that 17 to 22%, around 4.7% of those who voted in 2019 for Alberto Fernandez would now vote for him, and 13.1% of those who voted for Front for All would also now choose the parliamentarian.
Second, a recession is looming in Argentina this year, driven by inflation above 100% and a severe drought that has decimated its agricultural exports and exchange reserves. Economic instability can only fuel anger among the electorate towards the existing political class, driving an anti-establishment sentiment that Milei is well-positioned to use. As a socially conservative anarcho-libertarian, however, the prospect of a Milei administration only adds more instability to the already embattled country.