Trump admirer leads race for Argentina presidency
Javier Milei, a far-right politician who holds a favorable view of former US President Donald Trump, has secured the largest share of votes in Argentina’s primary election.
This primary involves all presidential candidates from various parties and serves as a significant indicator for the upcoming presidential election on October 22nd.
Mr. Milei surpassed expectations by garnering 30% of the votes, outperforming more established political figures. The outcome of this election has been described by Argentine media as a “political earthquake.”
Unlike primaries in other countries, Argentina’s primary is open to all eligible voters, regardless of party affiliation, and voting is compulsory. The candidate with the most votes in the primary is often seen as a frontrunner for the October 22nd presidential election.
Leading up to the primaries, opinion polls had indicated that Mr. Milei was trailing behind Sergio Massa, the center-left economy minister, and conservative candidate Patricia Bullrich.
However, with over 97% of the votes counted, Mr. Milei secured 30.06% of the votes, surpassing Patricia Bullrich’s coalition with 28.27% and Sergio Massa’s coalition with 27.24%.
Newspaper La Nación likened Mr. Milei’s unexpected surge to a tsunami. Despite serving as a Congressman since 2021, he positions himself as an outsider in the political arena.
His anti-establishment stance has resonated with Argentine voters frustrated with the past and present government’s inability to address the country’s economic crisis.
Argentina is grappling with an inflation rate exceeding 115%, a quarter of its population living in poverty, and a sharp depreciation of the peso, leading to even football fans from rival nations mocking Argentine supporters by tearing up peso bills. Mr. Milei has strongly criticized his rivals from established political parties.
Speaking after the primary on Sunday he told his cheering supporters that “we have managed to build this competitive alternative that will put an end to the parasitic, thieving, useless political caste”.
The 52-year-old has said that if elected, he would abolish Argentina’s central bank, replace the peso with the US dollar and privatize state-run firms which are making a loss.
In a policy that brings to mind Brazil’s former far-right leader, Jair Bolsonaro, Mr. Milei also proposes loosening gun controls.
Mr. Milei has also stated that he is opposed to abortion unless the mother’s life is at risk and has included a promise “to protect children’s lives from conception” in his campaign program.
He has attacked sex education in schools as a ploy to destroy the “traditional family” and is a climate-change denier.
Sporting long sideburns, singing rock songs, and often wearing a leather jacket, the 52-year-old is deliberately provocative and often attacks “the left” in expletive-laden outbursts.
His unexpectedly good performance in the primary – 10 percentage points above what opinion polls had predicted – has sent the peso tumbling even further. The official rate fell nearly 18% when markets opened on Monday to just over 350 pesos per dollar.
Mr. Milei’s success was celebrated rapturously by his supporters, whom he told: “We are the true opposition, we are the only ones who want a real change because remember, a different Argentina is impossible with the same old people, with the same old people who have always failed, with the same old people who have been failing for 100 years.”
The candidates who came second and third, Patricia Bullrich and Sergio Massa, will now try to gain ground ahead of the first round of the presidential election on 22 October.
A second round pitting the top two contenders will be held on 19 November if no candidate reaches the 45% of votes – or 40% with a 10-percentage-point lead – needed to win outright.
With less than four percentage points’ distance between the three top candidates in the primaries, a second round currently seems highly likely.
Argentina is not the first country in the region where an anti-establishment candidate has upset the political apple cart.
In Colombia, independent candidate Rodolfo Hernández surged ahead surprisingly in the first round of the 2022 election, but lost to a former left-wing rebel, Gustavo Petro, in the run-off.
And in Chile, a far-right candidate, José Antonio Kast, won the first round in 2021 but was defeated by the left-wing former student leader Gabriel Boric in the second round.
In Brazil, supporters of the far-right incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, refused to accept his narrow defeat by his left-wing rival, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and stormed Congress just days after the latter was sworn in on 1 January 2023.