Javier Milei, a libertarian figure, stunned all sides with a resounding victory in the Argentine presidential election, plunging the country into uncertainty amid a severe economic crisis. Milei, an “anarcho-capitalist,” sparked enthusiasm among Argentinians fed up with a decade of economic stagnation under the long-dominant Peronist coalition. Despite polls predicting a close race, preliminary results showed Milei winning the election with 55.7% of the votes, while his rival, Economy Minister Sergio Massa, conceded defeat with 44%.
“Clearly, the outcome isn’t what we expected, and I’ve spoken with Javier Milei to congratulate him and wish him the best, as he is the president most Argentinians have chosen for the next four years.” Thousands of Milei’s supporters waved flags and chanted “freedom” as they celebrated outside his campaign headquarters. “We’re tired of Peronism. Milei might not be well-known, but better a madman than a thief,” said Nacho Larranaga, a 50-year-old writer draped in the blue and white flag of Argentina.
Milei, a 53-year-old economist with wild hair and a thick mustache, has been likened to former US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro for his abrasive style and controversial statements. His main platform includes plans to ditch the ailing peso for the US dollar and dismantle the Central Bank to eradicate inflation. “This is the change we, the younger generation, want. I’m not afraid of Milei; I’m afraid my father won’t be able to pay the rent. The Argentine peso is worthless,” said Juan Ignacio Gómez, 17.
He opposes abortion, supports firearms, promises to sever ties with Argentina’s major trading partners like China and Brazil, criticizes Pope Francis, doubts the death toll under Argentina’s brutal dictator regime, and claims humans are not responsible for climate change. He softened his rhetoric before the runoff to appeal to more moderate voters, but earlier in the campaign, he appeared on stage with a running chainsaw as a symbol of the drastic cuts he aims to make to the bloated state.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva congratulated and wished success to the Argentine government in a social media post that did not mention Milei. Milei’s fiery anti-establishment rhetoric against a thieving and corrupt political class resonated with Argentinians struggling to make ends meet and fed up with politicians seen as architects of their suffering.
While some were shocked by his style in this divisive election, others, like 42-year-old teacher Catalina Miguel among the disappointed crowds at Massa’s campaign headquarters, vowed to defend every right Milei aims to challenge. “Milei will find us in the streets defending every right he tries to challenge. Half of Argentina does not support him.”
At the edge of Milei’s chainsaw lies millions of Argentinians reliant on extensive government welfare and subsidies for fuel, electricity, and transportation – with bus fares costing just a few cents. Meanwhile, the country’s coffers are in the red, with a $44 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund hanging over the incoming administration.
Political analyst Ana Iparraguirre stated that Argentinians should brace themselves. “Whoever holds the reins of power must make swift decisions that will hurt people.”
As Milei prepares to be inaugurated on December 10, leaving his rival Massa still responsible for the economy for three weeks, analysts predict a challenging journey ahead with the tightly controlled peso vulnerable to devaluation. “With inflation nearing 150 percent, things could quickly spiral out of control in those few weeks. So, it’s a period of much instability,” said Iparraguirre.
Carlos Gervasoni, a political science professor at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, mentioned that if he wins, Milei would be “extremely weak in Congress. He definitely won’t be able to implement many of his ideas.”
Milei, a Buenos Aires legislator who conducted much of his campaign on TikTok and other social media, surged ahead in the primaries in August. He then trailed Massa by seven points in the first-round election in October. After securing support from the right-wing opposition in third place, he sought to garner support from moderate voters and hundreds of thousands of undecided voters.
“Argentina is part of a regional trend of genuine political party weakening and the emergence of outsider figures… who have powerful messages that resonate: just get rid of the political class, and everything will be fine,” said Michael Shifter from the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington.