Buenos Aires : Right-wing populist Javier Milei will become the next president of Argentina after promising a dramatic shake-up to the state in a fiercely polarized election campaign held amid deep discontent over soaring inflation and rising poverty.
Economy Minister Sergio Massa of the Peronist party conceded defeat and congratulated Milei, a self-described anarcho-capitalist who has drawn frequent comparisons to former U.S. President Donald Trump. Immediately after Massa's concession speech, the Argentine electoral authority began releasing partial results. With 95 per cent of votes tallied, Milei had 55.8 per cent and Massa 44.2 per cent. If that margin holds, it would be wider than predicted by all polls and the widest since Argentina's return of democracy in 1983.
In the streets of Buenos Aires, drivers honked their horns and many took to the streets to celebrate in several neighbourhoods. Outside Milei's party headquarters, a hotel in downtown Buenos Aires, supporters were euphoric. With a Milei victory, the country will swing to the right and empower a freshman lawmaker who got his start as a television talking head blasting what he called the "political caste."
"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."
Inflation has soared above 140 per cent and poverty has worsened while Massa has held his post. Milei has proposed to slash the size of the state and rein in inflation, while the government minister he was running against warned people about the negative impacts of such policies. The election forced many to decide which of the two they considered to be the least bad choice.
Massa's campaign cautioned Argentines that his libertarian opponent's plan to eliminate key ministries and otherwise sharply curtail the state would threaten public services, including health and education, and welfare programs many rely on. Massa also drew attention to his opponent's often aggressive rhetoric and openly questioned his mental acuity; ahead of the first round, Milei sometimes carried a revving chainsaw at rallies.
"There were 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 accused Massa and his allies of running a "campaign of fear" and he walked back some of his most controversial proposals, such as loosening gun control. In his final campaign ad, Milei looks at the camera and assures voters he has no plans to privatize education or health care. Milei's screeds resonated widely with Argentines angered by their struggle to make ends meet, particularly young men.
"Money covers less and less each day. I'm a qualified individual, and my salary isn't enough for anything," Esteban Medina, a 26-year-old physical therapist from Ezeiza, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a Milei rally earlier this week.