What many deemed impossible just months ago is reality: Libertarian populist Javier Milei resoundingly won Argentina’s presidency.
And with his victory Sunday night, the fiery freshman lawmaker has given Argentinians hope of major changes following a campaign that saw him revving a chainsaw to symbolically cut the federal bureaucracy down to size.
With almost all votes tallied, Milei handily beat Economy Minister Sergio Massa, 55.7 percent to 44.3 percent. Milei won all but three of the nation’s 24 provinces, and Massa had conceded even before the electoral authority began announcing preliminary results.
Milei, 53, a self-described anarcho-capitalist with an unusual mop of hair, made his name by furiously denouncing the “political caste” on television programs.
His pledge for change resonated with Argentines weary of annual inflation soaring above 140 percent and a poverty rate that reached 40 percent.
He will take power on Dec. 10.
Once in office, he has said he will slash government spending, dollarize the economy and eliminate the Central Bank as well as key ministries, including those of health and education.
An admirer of former U.S. President Donald Trump, he has likewise presented himself as a crusader against the sinister creep of global socialism with plans to purge the government of corrupt establishment politicians.
Supporters celebrated Sunday night outside Milei’s headquarters in downtown Buenos Aires, drinking beer and chanting as fireworks went off overhead.
They waved both Argentine flags and the yellow Gadsden flag, emblazoned with the words “Don’t Tread on Me,” which Milei’s movement has adopted as its own.
“We no longer want the past; we are betting on the future,” said Ezequiel Fanelli, 45, who works for an insurance company and had a Gadsden flag in hand.
“We believe it’s a change. Clearly, it’s not easy; it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a collective construction, not just his alone,” Fanelli added.
By wresting power from Massa’s Peronist party, which has dominated Argentine politics for decades, Milei’s victory represents a political paradigm shift in the country. He is the first outsider to reach the presidency and considerably more conservative than anyone who has held the position before.
“I have a lot of faith in the policies that he can push forward, and I hope he can fulfill everything he proposed without obstacles in the middle,” said Ayalen Abalos, a 22-year-old tourism student.
Indeed, implementing his agenda might be one of the main challenges.
While the broad margin of victory reflects support from the people, he will need political allies, as well, said Mariel Fornoni of the political consulting firm Management & Fit.
His fledgling Liberty Advances party, for example, has zero governors.
“Without political support, he won’t be able to do what he said he was going to do,” Fornoni said. Complicating his challenge further, “he has had little prior leadership experience — he has never led a legislative chamber, a province, or a company.”
But the way in which voters proved willing to hand the country’s reins to someone untested lays bare the deep discontent Argentines harbor for the ruling class and the status quo.
It marks the culmination of an improbable rise to power. Milei parlayed his television stardom into a lawmaker seat in Argentina’s lower house of Congress two years ago. Just months ago, his presidential bid was viewed as a mere sideshow – until he scored the most votes in August primary elections and sent shockwaves through the political landscape.
Milei, a libertarian economist, focused much of his campaign on economic proposals, casting blame on successive administrations for printing money with abandon to fund state spending.
Ahead of the first round, Milei sometimes carried a chainsaw at rallies, a symbol of his intention to cut state spending.
Argentina’s new President is Javier Milei. A classical -liberal he is smeared as far-right by socialists.
An aficionado of Milton Friedman & Friedrich Von Hayek the chainsaw is a euphemism for cutting the size of govt.
What’s the weather like in Buenos Aires this time of year? pic.twitter.com/IxAgw6iTaI
— David Atherton (@DaveAtherton20) November 20, 2023
In the run-up to the vote, Massa and his allies had cautioned Argentines that his opponent’s plan to eliminate key ministries and otherwise sharply curtail the state would threaten public services, including health, education and welfare programs.
Milei accused his opponent of running a “campaign of fear” and, in his final campaign spot, stared starkly into the camera and promised he would not privatize education, health care or soccer clubs.
The wide margin of Milei’s victory suggests voters agreed that the fearmongering was overblown.
Andrei Roman, CEO of Brazil-based pollster Atlas Intel — one of the only pollsters to correctly call the election’s first round — said there was a virtual tie in the province of Buenos Aires, home to almost 37 percent of the national electorate and a key bastion of Peronism.
Massa kicked his party’s machine into overdrive there to bring in votes – but to little avail, representing “the total defeat of Peronism,” Roman said.
“Massa’s campaign pushed the strategy of fear regarding Milei a lot, and I think it backfired,” he said, highlighting one of Massa’s spots that showed a young child picking up a stray gun and shooting his friend. Such issues are hardly people’s primary concerns, he said, so they see it as “just foul play, and a cheap, unconvincing strategy.”
Some of Milei’s positions appear to echo those of more conservative Republicans in the U.S.; he opposes abortion, which is legal in Argentina, and believes the push to combat climate change is driven by socialism.
“Despite Milei, despite all his campaign mistakes, despite all his peculiarities that raise doubts, concerns … despite all of that, the demand for change prevailed,” said Lucas Romero, the head of Synopsis, a local political consulting firm.
The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.
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