Libertarian outsider Javier Milei swept to victory in Argentina’s presidential election Sunday, vowing to halt decades of economic decline in a country reeling from triple-digit inflation.
The self-described “anarcho-capitalist” pulled off a massive upset by ousting the populist Peronist coalition which has long dominated Argentine politics.
With 55.7% of the vote, Milei thumped his rival, Economy Minister Sergio Massa, who won 44% of the vote and rapidly conceded defeat.
“Today begins the reconstruction of Argentina. Today, begins the end of Argentina’s decline,” Milei said in his victory speech. “The model of decadence has come to an end. There is no way back.”
Latin America’s third-biggest economy has suffered decades of crises under interventionist governments big on welfare that resort to printing money to finance spending, fuelling inflation, while borrowing heavily only to default on their debt.
Access to dollars is strictly controlled, leading to a thriving black market for greenbacks, and analysts warn the peso is ripe for a sharp devaluation.
“There is no room for gradualism...or half-measures,” said Milei. Milei’s main platform has been a plan to ditch the ailing peso for the US dollar and “dynamite” the Central Bank to do away with the “cancer of inflation.”
Analysts, however, warn the country is too low on dollar reserves for the move to happen anytime soon.
“This is the change that us young people want. I am not afraid of Milei, I am afraid my dad won’t be able to pay his rent. The Argentine peso isn’t worth a thing,” said Juan Ignacio Gomez, 17. Thousands of Milei supporters waved flags and chanted “freedom” as they celebrated outside his campaign headquarters.
“We are tired of Peronism. Milei is an unknown, but better a madman than a thief,” said 50-year-old writer Nacho Larranaga, wearing the blue-and-white Argentina flag as a cape.
Milei, a 53-year-old economist with wild hair and thick sideburns, has drawn comparisons with former US president Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro for his abrasive style and controversial remarks.
Both former presidents congratulated him on social media.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington “(looks) forward to working with President-elect Milei and his government on shared priorities.”
Milei had vowed on the campaign trail to cut ties with his country’s top trading partners Brazil and China, saying he would not “do business with communists.”
Following Milei’s victory, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wished “good luck and success” to the new Argentine government.
China said yesterday it would continue working with Argentina, congratulating the president-elect on his victory. “China has always attached great importance to the development of China-Argentina relations from a strategic and long-term perspective,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a regular briefing.