Argentina elects outsider Javier Milei on platform of radical reform

Milei, a self-described ‘anarcho-capitalist’, has promised to slash public spending by 15 percent and abolish the central bank.

Libertarian outsider Javier Milei has resoundingly won Argentina's presidential election [File: Natacha Pisarenko/AP]

Argentina has elected libertarian outsider Javier Milei as its next president, taking a chance on the eccentric economist’s programme of radical economic reform after decades of stagnation.

Milei’s win heralds a dramatic shake-up of the Latin American country’s economy and institutions amid public anger over high inflation and record poverty rates under the centre-left Peronist coalition.

In an address to Argentinians on Sunday night, Milei said his victory marked the beginning of the “reconstruction of Argentina.”

“Today begins the end of Argentina’s decline,” he said. “Today ends the impoverishing model of the omnipresent state, which only benefits some while the majority suffers.”

In the capital Buenos Aires, hundreds of Milei supporters honked horns, set off fireworks, and chanted his popular refrain against the political elite, “Out with all of them!”, as rock music played.

Economic Minister Sergio Massa earlier conceded defeat as provisional results in the run-off election showed Milei with 56 percent of the vote to his 44 percent, with nearly 90 percent of votes counted.

“Obviously the results are not what we had hoped for, and I have spoken to Javier Milei to congratulate him and wish him well, because he is the president that the majority of Argentines have elected for the next four years,” Massa said.

Milei’s attacks on the “thieving” political class struck a chord with Argentinians, particularly young men [File: Matias Delacroix/AP]

Milei, a self-described “anarcho-capitalist”, has promised a series of radical reforms, including slashing public spending by 15 percent, abolishing the central bank and switching the Argentinian peso to the United States dollar.

The 53-year-old political maverick, whose abrasive style has drawn comparisons with former US President Donald Trump, has also staked out conservative positions on social issues, opposing abortion and sex education, and railing against political correctness.

He has also questioned the death toll under Argentina’s dictatorship, attacked Pope Francis and denied that humans are responsible for climate change.

“I think his election reflects a disastrous government that was nevertheless strong enough, due to the deep roots of Peronism, to reach the runoff, and thus allow an outsider such as Milei to become the one standard bearer for the entirely justifiable desire for change,” Filipe Campante, an expert in Latin American politics at Johns Hopkins University, told Al Jazeera.

Milei’s diatribes against the “thieving” political class struck a chord with Argentinians, particularly young men, amid rising poverty and triple-digit inflation in the Latin American country, which has stumbled from economic crisis to crisis for decades.

Daunting challenges

“I think what moved me the most was the simple way he explained concepts,” David Urbani, a 20-year-old economics student at the National University of Mar del Plata, told Al Jazeera ahead of the election. “The guy is an academic, not a politician.”

Alan Quiroga, a 28-year-old Uber driver in Buenos Aires, said he was first drawn to Milei when he saw him on television talking passionately about Argentina’s “golden age” in the early 20th century.

“What he wants to implement is what they do in the United States, in Spain, in normal countries,” Quiroga told Al Jazeera before the vote. “What we are experiencing here is going towards Venezuela, Cuba.”

Milei will face a daunting set of challenges when he takes office on December 10, including government coffers that are in the red, a $44bn debt programme with the International Monetary Fund and inflation approaching 150 percent.

He also faces a divided legislature that threatens to constrain him from implementing his radical vision.

Campante said there was a high risk of instability due to Milei’s weak political support and the difficult economic situation.

“He seems attached to economic ideas that are very risky, to say the least – eg dollarization,” Campante said.

“If he doubles down on them, things risk going very badly. If he changes course and chooses a more orthodox and conciliatory approach, then things could be better, but oftentimes characters like him are unable to choose a moderate path.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies