Javier Milei: Argentina’s far-right outsider wins presidential election
Argentinians have chosen the far-right outsider Javier Milei, 53, as their new president.
With nearly all votes tallied, Mr. Milei secured almost 56% in the crucial run-off, surpassing his left-wing opponent Sergio Massa, who garnered 44%.
This unexpected triumph by the unconventional newcomer is being labeled as a “political earthquake.”
It has garnered approval from like-minded politicians such as former US President Donald Trump, who remarked that Mr. Milei would “Make Argentina Great Again.”
Brazil’s former leader Jair Bolsonaro expressed optimism, stating that “hope would shine again in South America.”
Critics often refer to Mr. Milei as “El Loco” (the madman). He has pledged substantial changes, including abandoning the local currency, the peso, in favor of the US dollar. Additionally, he advocates for dismantling the central bank to curb inflation caused by excessive money printing, as he asserts.
His proposed reforms extend to cutting welfare payments and streamlining bureaucracy by closing ministries such as culture, women, health, and education.
In various media interviews following his electoral success, Mr. Milei declared intentions to privatize Argentina’s state energy company, YPF, and the nation’s public broadcasters.
He emphasized a broad shift towards privatization, stating, “Everything that can be [put] into the hands of the private sector will be in the hands of the private sector.” However, he clarified that YPF would need to be “rebuilt” before privatization, without specifying the duration of this process.
The president-elect also announced plans to reduce public works to zero, putting ongoing projects up for tender to eliminate state spending.
On social issues, Mr. Milei advocates for loosening gun laws, overturning the legalized abortion policy established in Argentina in 2020, and permitting the sale and purchase of human organs.
Notably, the judges overseeing the aforementioned case were placed under police protection due to concerns for their safety.
Mr Milei’s victory comes amid a deep economic crisis which has seen annual inflation rise to 143% and 40% of Argentines living in poverty.
While opinion polls conducted before the election had given Mr Milei a slight lead over Mr Massa, the wide margin of his win – by more than 11% according to provisional results – has surprised many.
Mr Massa, who is the economy minister in the outgoing left-wing government, quickly conceded defeat saying that “obviously the results are not what we had hoped for”.
Analysts say Mr. Milei’s aggressive style and his promise to “do away with the political caste”, which he blames for the country’s ills, appealed to voters who were fed up with Argentina’s established parties.
“This model of decadence has come to an end. There is no turning back,” he told his supporters in his victory speech, promising a new era for Argentina.
“From being the richest country in the world, today we are (ranked) 130. Half of Argentines are poor and the other 10% are destitute. Stop this impoverishing model of the caste. Today we embrace the Libertarian model to return to being a global power,” he said.
He also announced that the changes he would bring in would be drastic and immediate.
During campaigning, the former economist and pundit held a chainsaw aloft to symbolize plans to cut spending.
His message appeared to resonate with voters celebrating his win in the streets of Buenos Aires. One woman told AFP news agency “We were very tired, we wanted to renew, we wanted to see new faces, always the same ones, I bet on change, on Milei, that it will go well for him, it will go well for the country”.
However, economists have been more circumspect, pointing out that Mr Milei’s party only holds a small number of seats in Argentina’s Congress and that he will therefore have to negotiate with the very politicians he disparaged and attacked during the campaign.
Despite his anti-establishment rhetoric, Mr Milei has in the past been quick to bury the hatchet if it suits him politically.
Following his win in the first round, he stopped attacking the third-placed candidate, conservative Patricia Bullrich, who in turn threw her weight behind Mr Milei in the second round.
In his victory speech, he thanked both Ms Bullrich and the conservative former president, Mauricio Macri, who had also endorsed him.
But while his supporters took to the streets of the capital, Buenos Aires, chanting “change!”, there are also those who worry about what Mr Milei’s victory may mean for Argentine society.
His choice of Victoria Villarruel as his vice-presidential running mate shocked human rights campaigners in the country, in which 30,000 people were killed or forcibly disappeared under military rule from 1976 to 1983.
Ms Villarruel, who comes from a military family, has defended officers convicted of crimes against humanity and proposed dismantling a museum that commemorates victims of Argentina’s military junta.
Mr Milei and Ms Villarruel will be sworn in on 10 December for a four-year term.