How a Faded 1980s Party Explains Argentina’s 2023 Election

Oct. 19, 2023

The meteoric rise of Javier Milei, a self-described anarcho-capitalist, paleo-libertarian and social media-first phenomenon, has been the biggest story of Argentina’s 2023 election.

Now considered the front-runner in the October 22 vote, Milei’s ascent reflects a major shift in the politics of Latin America’s third-largest economy. But what often goes unnoticed is the shared political lineage that unites Milei and his two main competitors, Sergio Massa (the governing coalition’s candidate) and Patricia Bullrich (leader of the largest opposition coalition, Juntos por el Cambio).

This shared endowment can be traced back to a small party from the late 1980s: the Unión de Centro Democrático, or Ucedé. Despite being an electorally feeble presence in a political landscape dominated by Peronism and anti-Peronism, the Ucedé has had an outsized influence on politics in recent years.

Born during Argentina’s re-democratization and spearheaded by Álvaro Alsogaray, an ally of several of the military or military-aligned governments that ruled Argentina between 1955 and 1983, the Ucedé unapologetically advocated for a free-market agenda. A recent book chronicles how Alsogaray believed even the junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983 was insufficiently committed to free-market ideology and reforms.

In the context of re-democratization, the Ucedé’s anti-populist, conservative, free-market, stances set it apart from the two major political parties of the time—the Peronist Partido Justicialista (PJ) and the anti-Peronist Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), both of which leaned towards state interventionism and economic heterodoxy.

Following the hyperinflation and growing dissatisfaction during the later years of Raúl Alfonsín’s administration (1983-1989), Alsogaray’s free-market message resonated—somewhat, anyway—with voters in the 1989 election, when it secured nearly 10% of the national vote.