Status: 20.11.2023, 01:58 a.m.
Javier Milei is the new president of Argentina. © Natacha Pisarenko/AP/dpa
With ultra-liberal policies, the economist wants the introduction of the dollar and a social cutback. However, if he does not find allies quickly, massive protests could paralyze the country.
Buenos Aires - Libertarian populist and opposition politician Javier Milei has won the presidential election in Argentina. With 55.76 percent of the vote, the candidate of the party La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) was well ahead of Economy Minister Sergio Massa of the left-wing Unión por la Patria (Union for the Fatherland) with 44.23 percent, according to the South American country's election office after 97 percent of the votes had been counted in the evening.
Government candidate Massa conceded defeat. "Javier Milei is president. I congratulated him because the majority of Argentines voted for him," he said. "As of tomorrow, it is the responsibility of the president-elect to provide security and guarantees, and we hope that he will do so."
Sergio Massa admits defeat to opposition candidate Milei in the presidential run-off. © Gustavo Garello/AP
In the midst of a severe economic crisis, the self-proclaimed "anarcho-capitalist" Milei promises a radical turnaround: he wants to introduce the US dollar as legal tender, abolish the central bank and many ministries, and cut social spending. Government candidate Massa, on the other hand, stood for the previous policy of massive state intervention in the economy and extensive social programs.
Milei benefits from anger at the ongoing crisis
"No one with such extreme views on economic issues has ever been elected president of a South American country," said economist Mark Weisbrot of the U.S. Center for Economic and Policy Research. "It hardly recognizes a legitimate role of government in some of the most important policy areas that most people see as necessary for a democratic, humane and stable society."
Milei benefited above all from the anger of many Argentines against the ongoing crisis and the political establishment. With disheveled hair and a running chainsaw, he railed against the political "caste" he hated at campaign rallies. The eccentric lives with five cloned giant mastiffs, whom he named after liberal economists such as Milton Friedman and Robert Lucas.
The enfant terrible of Argentine politics also wants to liberalize gun ownership, is against the right to abortion, does not believe in man-made climate change and calls the Argentine Pope Francis a communist. Like former US President Donald Trump and former Brazilian head of state Jair Bolsonaro, he uses anti-system rhetoric, but unlike his role models, he refrains from right-wing extremist outbursts and advocates same-sex marriage, for example.
His future vice-president, Victoria Villarruel, on the other hand, serves the conservative clientele, maintains contacts with right-wing groups around the world and repeatedly provokes with statements about the military junta (1976-1983). The daughter of an officer casts doubt on the death toll of anti-government activists, left-wing activists, trade unionists and students during the dictatorship, estimated by human rights organizations at 30,000, and insists on more recognition for the victims of left-wing guerrilla groups.
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South America's second-largest economy is in the throes of a deep economic crisis. The inflation rate is over 140 percent, and around 40 percent of the people in the once rich country live below the poverty line. Argentina suffers from a bloated state apparatus, low industrial productivity and a large shadow economy that deprives the state of many tax revenues. The national currency, the peso, continues to lose value against the US dollar, and the mountain of debt is constantly growing.
U-turn for Argentina
The victory of the free-market Milei represents a real turnaround for Argentina, where the left-wing Peronists have dominated the economy for more than 20 years, the state intervenes massively in the economy, public services are heavily subsidized, and in many provinces more workers are employed in the public sector than in the private sector.
Supporters of opposition presidential candidate Milei celebrate after polls close. © Rodrigo Abd/AP
Now, however, Milei's ability to compromise is likely to be tested, because he will not get far on his own, despite his radical rhetoric. He does not have a majority in parliament, his camp does not have a provincial governor, and he lacks qualified personnel to fill important key positions. Political opponents, on the other hand, can make life difficult for him as head of state: the left-wing Peronists are well organized through trade unions, social movements and party structures down to the smallest communities and are always able to paralyze public life in Argentina with protests against the new government. Dpa