Argentina's president-elect is racing against the clock to remake the government
Argentina ’s President-elect Javier Milei has called for the wholesale reinvention of the government but he has precious little time.
And with less than three weeks until his Dec. 10 inauguration, Milei has no executive experience and few allies in his bullpen.
From the moment of the wild-haired outsider ’s decisive victory on Sunday night, the clock started ticking. Argentina’s presidential transition period is one of the shortest in Latin America; it lasts at least six weeks in Colombia and two months in Brazil. Next year’s election in Mexico will feature a six-month handover.
Milei "is new to politics, leads a minor political party and has not built an experienced team. He could use more time to prepare his agenda, recruit advisers and senior officials, and build coalitions in the new Congress," Benjamin Gedan, director of the Latin America Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center, told The Associated Press. "This is especially important because Argentina is on the verge of collapse, so he will have no time for learning on the job."
The key position to appoint is that of economy minister, given Argentina’s gaping budget deficit, depleted dollar reserves, and a $44 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund that it must continue paying down. Four in 10 Argentines are living in poverty, annual inflation is running at the red-hot rate of 143% and it is likely to continue accelerating, at least in the short term.
During his victory speech on Sunday night, Milei said that "Argentina’s situation is critical. The changes our country needs are drastic. There is no room for gradualism, no room for lukewarm measures."
Milei rose to prominence as a television talking head who blasted the political elite as corrupt and self-serving. He parlayed that fame into a lawmaker’s seat two years ago with his newly founded political party. Then he defied almost all political experts’ predictions when he won the presidency. A libertarian populist in a country where the state has an outsize presence, he was even more of a novelty. He has said he will halve the number of government ministries, slash public spending with his "chainsaw plan" and privatize each and every state-owned and state-run company that he can. He has also said he will get rid of the Central Bank. he has said he will halve the number of government ministries, slash public spending with his " <a href="https://apnews.com/article/milei-argentina-chainsaw-fed35a37c6137b951e4adada3d866436" xmlns="http://iptc.org/std/NITF/2006-10-18/">chainsaw plan</a> " and <a href="https://apnews.com/article/milei-argentina-pres
ident-privatization-1a87d02035511982ab620104b9feb255" xmlns="http://iptc.org/std/NITF/2006-10-18/">privatize each and every state-owned and state-run company</a> that he can. He has also said he will get rid of the Central Bank.
Milei’s ambition to shrink the state requires personnel with a deep understanding of its minutiae in order to make decisions that are both bureaucratic and political, said Sergio Berensztein, a Buenos Aires-based political analyst. His official government proposal was thin on details and full of points like making it easier to buy handguns.
"This is planning for a war; you can’t just go ahead and without proper strategy start doing the thing. If you do that, it is going to fail," Berensztein said by phone. "You have to do things correctly, need a plan, need a strategy ... So far, we have no indication whatsoever that is the case."
Milei said in an interview on Nov. 21 that any of his ministers who increase spending will be immediately dismissed. When contacted by the AP, a spokesperson declined to comment on appointee plans.
For now, at least, the market seems to be giving Milei the benefit of the doubt. Argentine stocks and sovereign bonds have risen and the peso has lost a bit of its value, but hasn't taken the <a href="https://apnews.com/article/milei-argentina-dollar-peso-exchange-bb61f9e9a6108ba0ced63f89b2cfd431" xmlns="http://iptc.org/std/NITF/2006-10-18/">plunge many had been expecting.</a>
"The great merit that Milei has is that the market seems to believe him a little more than it seemed to do before the election," said Javier Timerman, Managing Partner at AdCap Asset Management in New York.
Milei said in a statement that he will not make any of his appointments known until Dec. 10 - although he did reveal a few names during his first few interviews as President-elect, like his picks to lead the justice ministry and a new human capital ministry, people whom political columnist Joaquin Morales Sola wrote in newspaper La Nacion on Wednesday are "people with a proven aptitude for public function."
In order to triumph in the runoff, Milei struck an alliance with center-right former President Mauricio Macri that provided him with the national network needed to bring in votes.
"I talk a lot with him, and he contributes a lot from his experience," Milei has said of Macri.
Berensztein said, however, that "he used Macri to win the election and now he is enlarging his coalition and Macri is not going to have as much influence as he thought."
Macri, however, could play a key role in helping Milei fill the lower-ranking roles.
As if he had time to spare, Milei has said he plans to travel to Miami, New York and Israel before he takes power. Still, he does appear to recognize the enormity of the challenge ahead; on the day after his victory, he said had been working through the night without sleep. On Nov. 21, he said in an interview broadcast on YouTube that, after he’s sworn in, he won’t even waste time on the helicopter rides to and from the presidential palace; instead, he will become the world’s first fully operational work-from-home head-of-state.
"Since I am a workaholic, the thing is I wake up directly, go to the desk, start working, and I continue working until I finish. If I need any minister, I will call them and have them come," Milei told Neura Media in the interview.