As Argentina expresses its frustration at corruption among the political elite and soaring inflation, its electorate has turned to a far-right reactionary who idolises Donald Trump, wants to legalise guns and believes human organs should be sold on the free market.
Javier Gerardo Milei, a 52-year-old former rockstar nicknamed “The Wig”, owing to his chaotic hairdo and 1970s style sideburns, has claimed that climate change is a “lie” and has characterised sex education as a ploy to destroy the family
But on Sunday (August 13), during Argentina’s vote to elect candidates for the Presidential election, which will take place this October, Mr Milei rocked the traditionally two-party political establishment by receiving the biggest share of primary votes.
With around 97 per cent of polling locations reporting, Mr Milei had around 30 per cent of the total vote, according to official results. The candidates in the main opposition coalition, United for Change, were at 28 percent and the governing Union for the Homeland coalition had 27 per cent.
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Javier Milei is the leader of the La Libertad Avanza party, which he created in 2021, and is already more than just a rising star in Argentine politics.
The former economic consultant to large financial firms began appearing on TV programmes as a commentator and panellist a few years ago, where he cultivated an aggressive style as some who always ended up shouting at his counterparts.
Though for many years he was scarcely taken seriously as a political voice, the corruption charges facing some of Argentina’s political elite, as well as soaring levels of inflation (116 per cent), have endeared the far-right candidate to many of the nation’s poorest members, who see him as the face of much-needed change.
“Today we have stood up to say ‘enough’ to the model of decadence. Today we took the first step for the reconstruction of Argentina,” he told ecstatic supporters in Buenos Aires, the capital, on Sunday after the votes were counted.
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As he heads into the Presidential election as the narrow favourite, a prospect the polls failed to foresee, more attention is now being paid to some of the candidate’s more bizarre beliefs.
He has described himself as an “anarcho-capitalist” and “tantric sex instructor” who would close Argentina’s central bank, replace the peso with the US dollar, relax gun ownership laws and legalise the sale of human organs.
The charismatic Mr Milei has been compared to both Donald Trump and the right-wing former president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro for his ability to appeal to disenchanted voters.
He also said he “identified, in historical terms, with [Winston] Churchill, with [Ronald] Reagan and with Margaret Thatcher”.
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Despite wanting to reassert Argentina’s control over the Falkland Islands, which Ms Thatcher prevented during her time as prime minister, Mr Milei says he reveres the former leader for “her gifts as a leader and the changes she introduced in her country”.
As a follower of Hayekian free market principles, akin to Ms Thatcher, he argues that shock treatment is the only answer to Argentina’s long standing economic difficulties.
“If we don’t change today, our only destiny will be to turn into the biggest slum in the world,” he told his supporters last week.
His private life is equally colourful; as an unmarried man, he maintains a belief in “free love” and lives with his five English mastiffs, all of whom are named after economists.
During his acceptance speech on Sunday, which was suffused with impassioned outburst decrying Argentina’s current political elite, he made a point of thanking each of the dogs.
In the next few months, Argentina will prepare to make its final decision on the populist reactionary.
Despite the unexpected result, his path to the presidency remains far from a certainty.
His main rival will be Patricia Bullrich, 67, a conservative former security minister with a tough-on-crime message.
The ruling Peronist candidate will be the economy minister, Sergio Massa, 51, who is considered more centrist.
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