Javier Milei, the far-right economist who wants to close down the Central Bank and liberalize gun ownership, has won Argentina’s presidential election.
Milei, of the La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances, or LLA) had 56% of the vote with 87% counted. Economy Minister Sergio Massa had 44%, a difference of 12 percentage points.
Before the results were formally announced, Sergio Massa, candidate for ruling Unión por la Patria (Union for the Homeland, or UxP) coalition, took to the stage to admit defeat and congratulate Milei on his victory.
The libertarian economist’s win turns Argentina’s political landscape on its head. Milei’s flagship proposals include shuttering Argentina’s central bank, dollarizing the economy, abolishing ministries including Women, Gender and Diversity and Environment, and privatizing healthcare and education.
An outsider candidate who had no experience in public office until he was elected as a deputy in 2021, Milei rose to fame as an eccentric right-wing TV pundit prone to outbursts of rage. He believes taxation is theft and famously raffled off his deputy’s salary because he sees it as illegitimate gains.
You may also be interested in: Javier Milei: the fringe economist pundit turned presidential frontrunner
His running mate, Victoria Villarruel, is a known dictatorship denialist who has visited Argentina’s former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and other repressors in jail and disputed the number of victims forcibly disappeared by the dictatorship.
After four years under President Alberto Fernández’s center-left government, Milei drags Argentina’s window of discourse dramatically to the right. Fernández took office in December 2019, three months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and implemented a lengthy lockdown. The country has also struggled to repay a record US$44 billion credit line with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) taken by the previous President Mauricio Macri.
Massa became economy minister in August 2022, after Martín Guzmán resigned amid coalition infighting over the extended fund facility negotiated in March of that year to replace Macri’s deal. Dubbed the economy “superminister,” he was put in charge of an expanded economy ministry that included agriculture and productive development, a move that many said put him in line for a shot at the presidency.
However, Massa has been unable to fix the country’s troubled economy. This year, Argentina’s economic dire straits were worsened by a drought that wiped out much of the harvest of soy and other key commodity crops, slashing around US$20 billion in export income.
You may also be interested in: Sergio Massa: the ‘unity’ candidate facing a perfect storm
Milei surprised the country by coming first in Argentina’s primary elections in August. He had been coming third in the polls during the campaign. In October’s general elections, Massa managed to turn things around, receiving 37% of the vote against Milei’s 30% but failed to secure enough support to win outright. In Argentina, candidates need either 45% or 40% plus a 10-point lead to win in the first round.
Patricia Bullrich, the candidate for the right-wing Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) coalition who was knocked out in the first round, announced the week after the first round that she would back Milei, despite the barbs the pair had traded on the campaign trail. Bullrich and Macri’s endorsement proved key in shifting the balance between the first and second electoral rounds.
“We forgave each other,” Bullrich told the Herald in a press conference on October 25.