Fri, 01 Dec 2023

BUENOS AIRES (CN) - Argentina has elected Javier Milei, a far-right libertarian with little political experience, to be the next president, launching the struggling South American country into an unpredictable future that many economists fear will be even more turbulent than its present.

Although the race between Milei and his opponent, Economy Minister Sergio Massa, appeared neck and neck in the weeks leading up to the runoff election, the president-elect outperformed predictions Sunday night, taking home 56% of the vote against Massa's 44%.

Milei, an economist who rose to prominence showcasing his temperamental personality and radical ideology across local television programs, ran an impassioned anti-establishment campaign that painted Argentina's current center-left government as a "parasitic, corrupt and useless political caste." The president-elect, whose political experience is limited to two years in Argentina's lower house of Congress, vows to close the country's central bank, slash taxes, replace Argentina's peso with the U.S. dollar and privatize public institutions.

"Today, Argentina's reconstruction begins," the president-elect declared in his victory speech. "Today, the end to Argentine decadence begins."

His win indicates that Argentines are fed up with their dire economic situation. Annual inflation has soared past 140%, about two in five Argentines live in poverty, and the local peso loses value at a dizzying rate. Many voters saw Massa, the ruling party's candidate and current economy minister, as synonymous with their economic woes.

"I know how to exterminate the cancer of inflation," Milei proclaimed at the final presidential debate ahead of the election.

Hundreds of top economists around the world disagree, stating that Milei's proposals are "likely to cause more devastation" for Argentines and that dollarization is a "mirage" in two recently published open letters.

Still, voters were willing to take their chances. Standing outside Milei's election headquarters in downtown Buenos Aires after the results were announced, Fernando Acosta looked onto a jubilant crowd with tears in his eyes.

"I've been campaigning for two years, that's why I'm crying," Acosta, who lives in Quilmes, a coastal city in the Buenos Aires province, said. "I think Milei is the solution. We're at the bottom of the abyss, and I think he can help us get out of it."

Tears were also shed outside of Massa's election headquarters, though for different reasons. Camila Lopez Castilla, a primary school teacher, said she "can't understand" Milei's victory.

"We're a country with public schools, with public health, and they're telling us that they're gonna sell it to us, that they're going to take it away from us," Castilla said. "But the people chose, that's democracy. Today we cry, today we're here. Tomorrow, we have to continue. We have to defend each other."

Massa admitted defeat even before official results were released, delivering a concession speech that praised Argentina's electoral process. "This day confirms one thing in the face of so much discussion, or devaluation. Argentina has a strong, solid democratic system, which is also transparent and always respects the results," he said, adding that he had already congratulated the president-elect.

A supporter of Javier Milei wears a "Make Argentina Great Again" hat during the closing campaign rally of Javier Milei in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

For months, Milei has been stoking fears about election fraud, despite lacking evidence to back his claims. His comments elicited comparisons to former U.S. President Donald Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and had some analysts fearing that if Milei lost, Buenos Aires might see something similar to the riots that shook D.C. and Rio after their respective presidents lost reelection.

As indications of a Milei win began trickling in, representatives of his campaign told local media that they were seeing evidence of a clean election. During his victory speech, the president-elect thanked his party's election workers. "We said that the votes were there, but we had to take care of them," he said. "And boy, did they take care of them."

In his speech, Milei doubled down on his sweeping proposals and called for "drastic" change. "There is no room for gradualism," he said. "If we do not move quickly with the structural changes that Argentina needs, we are headed straight for the worst crisis in our entire history."

It remains unclear whether Milei will have the political support necessary to pull off his radical plans. His nascent party, Liberty Advances, holds just seven of the 72 seats in Argentina's Senate and 38 of the 257 in its House. However, some members of Argentina's more established center-right coalition-including Milei's former rival Patricia Bullrich and former President Mauricio Macri-have already allied themselves with the president-elect.

Throughout his campaign, Milei was often seen wielding a chainsaw at political rallies, symbolizing his intention to slash government spending and taxes. In addition to his unorthodox economic platform, he is known for his volatile temper and incendiary comments, such as when he said Pope Francis has an "affinity for murderous communists" in an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. 

The president-elect has also proposed loosening gun regulations and banning abortion, which Argentina legalized in 2020. He has dismissed the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change as part of "the socialist agenda."

Milei has also dismissed the brutal military dictatorship that terrorized Argentina between 1976 and 1983, denying the widely accepted estimate that as many as 30,000 Argentines were "disappeared" under the military junta. His ultraconservative running mate, Victoria Villarruel, has come under fire for defending the dictatorship.

Milei will be sworn in as president, and Villarruel as vice president, on Dec. 10, exactly 40 years after Argentina's first democratically elected president following the military dictatorship began his term.

Source: Courthouse News Service

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