Argentina has elected controversial libertarian Javier Milei to serve as the country’s president for the next four years. Milei gained popularity with the public with performative displays of how he was going to tackle Argentina’s soaring inflation and rising levels of poverty and unemployment. His often abrasive campaign style has garnered comparisons to former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and ex-U.S. President Donald Trump.
What do we know about Javier Milei?
Born in Buenos Aires in 1970, Milei grew up during Argentina's Dirty War, the military dictatorship's campaign to depose left-wing political opponents. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people are estimated to have been killed from 1976 to 1983.
During Argentina's worst economic crisis in 1989, Milei studied economics while moonlighting as the lead singer of a Rolling Stones cover band called "Everest." In the last two decades, he has lectured at various universities on economics and hosted a radio show. It was during his time as a television commentator that he gained notoriety for his over-the-top antics, such as claiming his dead dog told him to run for president.
He joined the right-wing political party, La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Forward), in 2020 and slowly became a favorite with the public as inflation skyrocketed to 100%. While on his campaign trail, he promoted his policies by wielding a chainsaw — showing his intent on cutting corruption from the political system — and by smashing a pinata that represented the Central Bank on television.
What were the final election results?
Milei secured 55.69% of Sunday's vote, according to Bloomberg, compared to the 44.3% garnered by his center-left opponent, Sergio Massa. "Today the reconstruction of Argentina begins," Milei told his supporters at his campaign headquarters on Sunday. "Today is a historic night for Argentina." Milei promised the nation that "drastic changes" were ahead to fix the "tragic reality" of widespread poverty, and he told the international community that "Argentina will return to the place in the world, which it should never have lost."
He will assume office on Dec. 10.
What are his plans to fix Argentina’s economy?
The self-described "anarcho-capitalist" has vowed to abolish Argentina's Central Bank as well as replace the peso with the U.S. dollar to tame hyperinflation.
“He's already said he's going to privatize the state oil company, the state radio, and the state TV,” Dr. Christopher Wylde, a senior lecturer in politics and international relations at St Mary's University in England, told Yahoo News the day after Milei’s victory. “It's gonna happen, and it's gonna happen fast.”
Will it work?
“I think it's going to be another repeat of what happened in the '90s,” Wylde said. “They solve the inflation problem, but they just create another problem. And in the '90s, that problem was the trade balance. It made exports massively uncompetitive. Argentina couldn't export anything. They couldn't make any money, and in the long run it just got worse and worse and worse before coming to a head." He added: "Whilst I think the end will be the same - dislocation and crisis - the process will be very different.” With his party controlling just 14% of parliament, Milei might be forced to moderate his plans. Winning a majority and pushing through legislation will mean gaining the backing of other political parties.
Why is he so controversial?
Some of Milei's ideas have been to cut social spending, cut ties with communist countries — including China — and legalize the sale of human organs. Milei, also known as "El Loco" or "Madman" by his supporters, is anti-abortion and has called for sex education to be cut from schools. He previously attacked Pope Francis, who is from Argentina, calling him a "disgusting leftist" who "promotes communism." Milei previously praised former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a figure who remains deeply unpopular in Argentina because of the Falklands War, and has criticized iconic footballer Diego Maradona.
What was the environment in which he was elected?
Argentina has spent decades in a boom-and-bust cycle and has defaulted on its debt nine times. An already failing economy was exasperated by the pandemic, causing the economy to fall deeper into a recession. “An already imbalanced economy got even more imbalanced,” Wylde explained. More than 100% inflation over the last two years has created serious problems domestically. “This is the context in which Milei has been elected,” Wylde said, “so the average Argentine is at their wit's end at this point. They are tired. A lot of his supporters are young men who don’t see a future.”