Controversial right-wing populist Javier Milei wins Argentine presidential elections

Javier Milei (left) celebrates his election as president of Argentina at his party’s headquarters in Buenos Aires.Image LUIS ROBAYO/AFP

Outside the hotel in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires where Milei is staying, a real popular celebration has broken out. They sing as if it concerns (once again) a World Cup final win. “The political caste is afraid!” it sounds from hundreds of throats. “Milei presidenteMilei presidente”, shout his supporters, while many are waving a yellow Milei flag.

People can hardly believe it anymore. International media flock to capture the overjoyed attendees. Milei – a big fan of former presidents Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump – has attracted a lot of international attention in recent months. If Milei lost, there were fears of major disturbances, also because he had spoken about fraud in the elections in recent days. There is a large police presence throughout the city and fences have been installed in strategic places. Now that Milei has won, things are expected to remain relatively calm.

Nightmare to vote

It should have been a festive year. Argentina is celebrating forty years of uninterrupted democracy after the brutal dictatorship of the 1970s. However, the party is ruined by the deplorable economic situation the country is in.

The presidential elections were also a nightmare for many Argentinians: in their view, a choice had to be made between two evils. While voting is mandatory, turnout was 76 percent. Milei ultimately came out on top. With more than 98 percent of the votes counted, he is at almost 56 percent.

Opposing candidate Massa – the current Minister of Economic Affairs – has acknowledged his loss and congratulated his Milei. On his shoulders now rests the almost impossible task of making the South American country grow and prosper again. Milei is also controversial.

Thieving populists

Federico (44) and Gabriela (34) can’t believe their luck either. They are here with their six-year-old daughter Nicole. “This is really going to mean a big change for Argentina,” said Gabriela, who was born and raised in Venezuela.

She compares Argentina’s dramatic economic situation with that of her homeland. “With Milei, our quality of life will certainly increase.” Her husband adds: “We can now finally say goodbye to all those populists here who robbed us.”

When asked whether Milei is not also a populist, he says: “Maybe so, but he is not into giving money to the people.”

Supporters of Milei celebrate in the streets of the Argentine capital Buenos Aires on Sunday evening after the election results were announced.Image Cristina Sille/REUTERS

He will provide work, according to Federico, who owns a furniture factory with his wife and is involved in cryptocurrency trading. They wholeheartedly welcome the fact that Milei wants to dollarize the economy. “Finally doing business abroad again without any problems,” says Federico.

Drastic changes

In his victory speech on Sunday evening, Milei said that “the reconstruction of Argentina has begun today.” “We are going to transform the country into a world power again. This is a new page in our history.”

He calls Argentina’s situation ‘critical, so the changes must be drastic’. He was referring, among other things, to more trade with ‘free countries’, without specifying this. He previously said he no longer wanted to trade with ‘communist China and Brazil’.

Milei wants to reduce taxes. “Because if we continue to maintain the same model, we will become the largest slum in the world,” the ‘anarchist capitalist’ said recently.

Varying reactions

Left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of neighboring Brazil reacted cautiously to Milei’s election. Although he wished the newly elected government of Argentina good luck and success, he did not mention Milei by name. Milei strongly criticized the Brazilian president during his campaign, calling him, among other things, an ‘angry communist’.

Colombia’s also left-wing president, Gustavo Petro, even reacted downright negatively to the result. “The far right has won in Argentina. It is that country’s choice. Sad for Latin America, we’ll see…”

Former American President Donald Trump reacted happily to the news. ‘The whole world was watching! I’m very proud of you. You will change your country and make Argentina truly great again,” Trump wrote on his social media platformTruth Social. Brazilian ex-president Jair Bolsonaro is also pleased with Milei’s profits. “There will be hope again in South America,” he says in response.

Harsh and toxic campaign

Since Saturday evening, an alcohol ban has been in place throughout Argentina, partly intended to ensure that the elections proceed as orderly as possible and to give Argentines space and time for reflection. That turned out to be necessary.

After the first round in October, two candidates remained: Sergio Massa (51), the incumbent Minister of Economy, and the ultra-right populist Javier Milei (53). The two fought each other out against the backdrop of 142 percent inflation and 40 percent of Argentines living below the poverty line. The campaign was toxic and polarizing.

Controversial plans

Partly because of this, these were charged and historic elections with the economy and poverty reduction as the most important themes. Milei and his political party, La Libertad Avanza, in particular stood out with their controversial plans and the fact that he regularly campaigned with a chainsaw: the government must be curtailed and the ‘political caste’ must come to an end.

He also wants to abolish the central bank, completely dollarize the economy and abolish free education. His misogynistic comments (he is against abortion) and his plans to allow organ trafficking and relax gun ownership raise many people’s eyebrows.

Many fear for the state of democracy. There are open doubts about Milei’s mental health. He has stated that he keeps in touch with his deceased dog through a medium in order to ask him for advice.

Milei does not have a majority in parliament. The question is how he wants to implement his controversial plans. That question does not seem to concern those present outside the hotel. They celebrate exuberantly and say they finally see light at the end of the tunnel.

On December 10, Milei will be inaugurated as the new president of Argentina.

The article is in Dutch

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