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Argentine Radical Libertarian Javier Milei: Could He Clinch the Presidency?

Argentine far-right libertarian Javier Milei shocks the country by winning the largest share of the vote in open primary elections. Can he repeat this success in the general elections?

In a surprising turn of events, Javier Milei, the far-right libertarian candidate of the La Libertad Avanza alliance, emerged as the frontrunner in Argentina's open primary elections. This victory has left many wondering if he can maintain his momentum and secure a win in the upcoming general elections in October.

The primary elections serve as a crucial indicator of how the general election will unfold. Milei secured 30% of the vote, narrowly surpassing the main conservative bloc at 28% and the center-left ruling Peronists at 27%. Known for his fiery campaign rallies, which draw comparisons to former U.S. President Donald Trump, Milei has positioned himself as a disruptor who could upend the country's political landscape. He has made bold promises to close the central bank, adopt a dollarized economy, and drastically reduce government spending.

However, Milei faces a significant challenge in winning the general election on October 22nd or a potential run-off in November. Some voters expressed their dissatisfaction by casting protest votes in the primary elections, leading to record-low turnout. These factors have impacted the more traditional parties, but they could shift in the next two months.

Economy Minister Sergio Massa, the candidate for the ruling Peronist coalition, compared the primary vote to the first half of a soccer match, emphasizing that there is still a long way to go. He remains determined to fight until the last minute, drawing inspiration from Argentina's soccer legends Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona. Massa believes that the turnout in October could increase, as there is typically a 4 percentage point increase in voter numbers between the primaries and the general election, according to J.P. Morgan.

Despite the potential challenges, Milei's camp remains optimistic and jubilant. They exceeded expectations by a wide margin, with chants of "Milei president" echoing through the crowd as the election results were announced. The conservative coalition, Together for Change, has pledged to rally behind their elected candidate Patricia Bullrich, a hard-line former security minister. However, Bullrich acknowledged that the vote reflects a desire for profound change and an end to uncertainty and government bureaucracy.

Julio Cobos, a lawmaker with Together for Change, agrees that voters are demanding significant change but emphasizes that the race is still open. He believes that the coalition has room to improve its performance if they stay united and present a strong team. The race, which was initially seen as a competition between the two main parties with Milei as a dark horse, has now evolved into a true three-way fight. Each of the top candidates has a chance to make it to the run-off.

Alejandro Corbacho, the director of the political science program at Argentine university UCEMA, highlights the evident anger among the population towards the political establishment. He states that the election race is now divided into three, a shift that was not previously anticipated.

Jared Lou, a portfolio manager at William Blair Investment Management, acknowledges Milei's newfound status as the front-runner but emphasizes the presence of uncertainty. While Milei's outsider status and appeal to frustrated voters may work in his favor, his views on gun ownership, anti-abortion policies, and dollarization of the economy could potentially alienate some voters, as these positions go against the majority sentiment in Argentina.

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