Javier Milei, a right-wing populist, is poised to assume the presidency of Argentina, having pledged a substantial overhaul of the government during a highly polarized election marked by widespread dissatisfaction with escalating inflation and increasing poverty.
With 99.4% of votes tallied in Sunday’s presidential runoff, Milei had 55.7% and Economy Minister Sergio Massa 44.3%, according to Argentina’s electoral authority. It is the widest victory margin in a presidential race since Argentina’s return to democracy in 1983.
Massa, a member of the incumbent Peronist party, acknowledged his defeat and extended congratulations to Milei, a self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist often likened to former U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Argentines chose another path,” Massa said in his speech. “Starting tomorrow ... guaranteeing the political, social, and economic functions is the responsibility of the new president. I hope he does.”
With Milei securing victory, the nation is poised for a rightward shift, entrusting the reins to a newcomer in the political arena who initially gained prominence as a television commentator vehemently criticizing what he dubbed the "political caste."
During Massa's tenure, poverty has worsened and inflation has risen to 140%. While the government minister was challenging cautioned people about the unfavourable effects of such programmes, Milei has suggested cutting back on public spending and controlling inflation. The election forced many to decide which of the two they considered to be the least bad choice.
“This is a triumph that is less due to Milei and his peculiarities and particularities and more to the demand for change,” said Lucas Romero, the head of Synopsis, a local political consulting firm. "What is being expressed at the polls is the weariness, the fatigue, the protest vote of the majority of Argentines.”
In Massa's campaign warnings to the Argentine public, he emphasized that his libertarian adversary's proposals to abolish crucial ministries and significantly reduce the scope of the state could jeopardize essential public services such as health and education, as well as vital welfare programs that many depend on. Massa also highlighted his opponent's frequently aggressive rhetoric and openly raised concerns about his mental acuity. In the lead-up to the initial round, Milei occasionally brandished a revving chainsaw at campaign rallies.
“There were a lot of voters that weren’t convinced to vote Milei, who would vote no or blank. But come the day of the vote, they voted for Milei because they’re all pissed off,” Andrei Roman, CEO of Brazil-based pollster Atlas Intel, said by phone. “Everyone talked about the fear of Milei winning. I think this was a fear of Massa winning and economy continuing the way it is, inflation and all that.”
Milei leveled accusations against Massa and his supporters, alleging they orchestrated a "campaign of fear." Additionally, he moderated some of his more contentious stances, including a reconsideration of his earlier proposals to relax gun control. In his concluding campaign advertisement, Milei directly addressed the camera, reassuring voters that he harbours no intentions to privatize education or healthcare.
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Milei's impassioned speeches struck a chord with a broad spectrum of Argentines who were frustrated by the challenges of making ends meet, resonating particularly strongly among young men.
Most pre-election polls, which have been notoriously wrong at every step of this year’s campaign, showed a statistical tie between the two candidates or Milei slightly ahead.
The election occurred against a backdrop of Milei's allegations of potential electoral fraud, drawing parallels to similar claims made by former U.S. President Donald Trump and former far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Without substantiating his assertions, Milei contended that the initial round of the presidential election was marred by irregularities influencing the outcome. Experts pointed out that such irregularities are unlikely to significantly impact election results and suggested that his claims were, in part, aimed at energizing his support base and encouraging them to act as monitors at voting stations.
Image source: Reuters