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Milei: an unprecedented and uncertain experience

Since Javier Milei’s inauguration on December 10, Argentina has been going through an unprecedented experience of a government with hyper-presidential styles and contents, which intends to take drastic measures and make far-reaching legislative changes with a maximum agenda without having a parliamentary majority. Milei became the most-voted presidential candidate in Argentine history, and simultaneously the president with the least parliamentary support and the only one whose political force did not win any of the provincial governorships. His party, Liberty Advances, has only 38 deputies out of a total of 257, and 7 senators out of 72. This is so because Milei became president in the second round with 56% of the votes, after obtaining 30% in the first round, which resulted in the current composition of the Congress.

And yet, he proposes to relaunch the country by turning its economic and social structure around like a glove amid a hyperinflationary and recessionary context at the same time.

In this dynamic, tensions, adjustments, and mismatches between democratic representation and the functioning of the republican system emerge. Or, in other words, between the players and teams, premiering their roles and deploying their game strategies, and the game itself that is being played. Government and opposition, and those who occupy the Executive and the Legislature, in tension and competition, but with the common and pressing imperative of governability, entering unknown territory and under the needs and urgencies imposed by the economic crisis and the expectations of an exhausted society. In addition to the winners and losers, in the short term, this battle must result in some kind of agreement that will give a floor to a government administration that has just begun and that, a month and a half after starting, has already had to face the first general strike called by the CGT.

Thus, beyond the fiery rhetoric and aggressive phrases, something that the Argentine president does daily through Twitter (X), the systole and diastole of the political heart fluctuates between realism and voluntarism, negotiation and decision-making, playing on the razor’s edge, tightening the cloth but without tearing it apart, knowing that, otherwise, everyone loses.

To this must be added the social mood as an incidental factor not to be lost sight of. The Political Satisfaction and Public Opinion Survey of the Universidad de San Andrés (UdeSA) carried out between January 9 and 14 shows a country divided: one month after taking office, 48% approve of Milei’s government, while 48% disapprove of it. According to this survey data, in December Milei had 54% approval, thus retaining the vote obtained in the second round. One month later, the presidential image fell 6 points, despite which Milei remains first in positive image. The rest of the leadership, especially those identified with the long years of Kirchnerist governments, had very low public esteem, which also dragged down the opposition leaders, which explains the rise to the presidency of this eccentric character with no management experience.

On the other hand, to the question “What would you say is your level of satisfaction with how things are going in the country?”, an overwhelming majority say they are totally dissatisfied: 50% not at all satisfied, 21% not very satisfied, 21% somewhat satisfied and only 5% say they are “very satisfied”. The percentages that the three branches of government in Argentina achieve in the favorable estimation of their performance are also low: 31% for the Executive, 23% for the Judiciary, and 20% for the Senate and Representatives. Regarding the main problems that people identify, inflation (57%), low salaries (33%), insecurity (32%), corruption (29%), poverty (28%), and “politicians” (25%) top the list.

Regarding the relationship between the ruling party and the opposition, 60% of those polled believe that the president should negotiate his agenda with Congress, compared to 17% who say he should impose it. At the same time, 47% of respondents think that Congress should cooperate with the president and negotiate some reforms, 27% believe it should not cooperate, and only 14% believe it should approve the delegation of powers.

As Daniel Zovatto, who has been following these indicators throughout Latin America, points out, “citizens demand concrete results from democracy and its institutions, effective and timely democratic solutions to their problems and not only procedures to elect and replace their rulers”.

The risk is there: according to Latinobarómetro2023, 54% of those surveyed in our region say they would not mind living in a non-democratic regime if it solves their problems.

Although such a dystopia, — a non-democratic regime that solves problems — does not exist in reality, our democracies are incubating in that dissatisfaction a bunch of Bukeles willing to eliminate politicians and institutions to take the Palace with the backing of the popular vote. Something that has a name, since the ancient Greeks and Romans: it is called autocracy, dictatorship, or tyranny. And in Latin America, without going that far, it takes the form of “delegative democracies”.

Delegative democracies are based on the premise that whoever wins a presidential election will have the right to rule as he (or she) deems appropriate, restricted only by the harsh reality of existing power relations and by a constitutionally limited term in office.

*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish.


Otros artículos del autor

Cientista político y periodista. Editor jefe de la sección Opinión de Clarín. Prof. de la Univ. Nac. de Tres de Febrero, la Univ. Argentina de la Empresa (UADE) y FLACSO-Argentina. Autor de "Detrás de Perón" (2013) y "Braden o Perón. La historia oculta" (2011).


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