In a significant political shift, far-right free market advocate Javier Milei has emerged victorious in Argentina's presidential election, defeating the nationalist establishment candidate. With 99% of the preliminary count completed, Milei secured 55.7% of the vote, while his opponent Massa received 44.3%. Massa conceded defeat and resigned from his position as Minister of Economy even before the official confirmation of results.
Milei, set to be sworn in on December 10, has drawn attention to his potential cabinet picks and the actions the outgoing government might take in the remaining 20 days of its term. Analysts speculate that the current administration might devalue the currency, adjust foreign reserves, or even increase public spending before Milei officially takes power and likely streamlines government institutions.
In his post-election speech, Milei promised swift reforms, stating that the era of decadence has ended and there's no turning back. He emphasized the urgency of the situation, asserting that Argentina must reclaim its rightful place in the world without resorting to gradualism.
Milei's campaign was marked by radical proposals in both economic and social policies, leading to polarized reactions globally. Former U.S. President Donald Trump and Tesla founder Elon Musk cheered for Milei, with Trump even claiming that Milei would "make Argentina great again." However, reactions from neighboring countries with predominantly left-wing governments were less enthusiastic. Colombian left-wing leader Petro described the day as a sad one for Latin America. Brazilian President Lula, often criticized by Milei, congratulated Argentina's new government without mentioning Milei by name. Traditional economists have been vocal in their dismay, having warned of risks even before the election.
Known for his bold statements in both economic and social spheres, 53-year-old Milei's economic stance, dubbed the "economic shock" therapy, is particularly controversial. His proposals include shutting down the central bank, eliminating various government departments like health and education, abandoning the local currency in favor of the U.S. dollar, and drastically cutting public spending. On social issues, he adopts conservative policies, supporting the sale of human organs, reducing gun restrictions, opposing abortion and euthanasia, and rejecting sex education in schools. Milei also denies climate change, labeling it a "socialist conspiracy." In foreign affairs, he has harshly criticized major trade partners like China and Brazil while leaning towards the United States.
Milei, who describes himself as a libertarian and anarcho-capitalist, is often labeled by others as an "outsider" and a "madman." The "outsider" tag refers to his lack of political experience before being elected as a congressman in 2021, having never held public office before. Prior to his political career, he was an economist at HSBC in the United States and a TV commentator known for his bold remarks. On television, he discussed not only politics and economics but also his personal life, claiming expertise in Tantra.
His diverse career also includes stints as a lead singer in a rock band and as a goalkeeper for an Argentine first division soccer team. However, during Argentina's hyperinflation in the late 1980s, Milei shifted from soccer to economics.
Milei is reticent about his early life. Known information indicates that his father was a businessman and his mother a homemaker, but he avoids discussing his childhood and has mentioned a strained relationship with his father. Today, his closest family tie is with his sister Karina Milei, who managed his campaign and whom he refers to as "the boss."
Since entering politics, Milei has been known for his bold statements and actions. His typical image includes disheveled hair, a worn leather jacket, and wildly brandishing a chainsaw. However, after unexpectedly trailing in the first round of elections in October, Milei toned down some of his extreme behavior, presumably to appeal to centrist voters.
While often described as "Argentina's Trump" or "Argentina's Bolsonaro," Milei's views are considered even more extreme than these right-wing figures on some issues. His campaign was filled with controversial statements, such as supporting the legalization of the human organ trade, which he described as "just another market." When asked about selling children, he said it "depends on the circumstances."
Critics have also focused on his treatment of pets. Milei claimed to have communicated with his deceased adopted dog, "Conan," through a psychic medium, saying that running for president was guided by "Conan." He also cloned at least four dogs using Conan's DNA, naming them after economists and even consulting them on policy decisions.
Despite the controversy surrounding Milei's statements and opposition from many economists, many Argentinians see him as a voice of change, pinning their hopes for a country mired in nearly two decades of economic downturn on him.
Following Milei's victory, thousands of his supporters gathered in downtown Buenos Aires, honking horns, playing rock music, setting off fireworks, and chanting Milei's anti-political elite slogan, "Let them all go."
Efrain Viveros, a 21-year-old student, expressed ecstatic joy to the media, seeing Milei as a symbol of change and the future. Christian, a 31-year-old restaurant worker, described Milei as "something new, a bit unknown and a bit scary," but felt it was time to turn a new page. Leonardo Estarone, a 57-year-old physiotherapist, said, "I have been waiting for this moment all my life. My children will live in a free country."
Argentinians, grappling with years of economic downturn, are eager for new solutions, making it reasonable to bet on Milei, who advocates for radical change. In Argentina, the second-largest economy in South America, triple-digit inflation has persisted for years, with the latest rate in October reaching 142.7%, and two-fifths of the population living in poverty.
However, 110 economists recently warned in an open letter that Milei's simplistic and brutal economic solutions overlook the complexity of modern economics and historical lessons, potentially exacerbating existing inequalities and causing more short-term damage, while severely limiting policy options in the long run.
Political observers suggest that Milei's election is less an endorsement of his far-right views or personal appeal and more a reflection of the public's extreme dissatisfaction with the status quo, representing a choice of the lesser of two evils. A Brazilian newspaper likened the situation to undecided voters choosing between a vampire "Dracula" and a monster "Frankenstein."
Despite the widespread support, the challenges Milei inherits cannot be overlooked. In addition to nearly 150% inflation, an empty treasury, and a $44 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund, he also faces a highly divided Congress. Milei's political coalition, the Liberty Alliance (LLA), established in 2021, holds only 8 seats in the 72-member Senate and less than 40 in the 257-member House of Representatives. Furthermore, not a single governor among Argentina's 23 provinces belongs to his alliance.
For the international community, Milei's victory could potentially upend the political and economic trajectory of South America's second-largest economy and affect the country's trade in commodities like grain, lithium, and oil. Additionally, Argentina's recent inclusion in the BRICS expansion in late August, a move already mired in controversy, could face a reversal under Milei's leadership.