The libertarian populist and opposition politician Javier Milei has won the presidential election in Argentina. The candidate from the party La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) was well ahead of Economy Minister Sergio Massa from the left-wing UniĆ³n por la Patria (Union for the Fatherland) with 55.76 percent, with 44.23 percent, according to the South American country’s electoral office that 97 percent of the votes had been counted in the evening.

Government candidate Massa admitted his defeat. “Javier Milei is president. I congratulated him because the majority of Argentines voted for him,” he said. “From tomorrow it is the responsibility of the president-elect to provide security and guarantees and we hope he will do so.”

In the midst of a severe economic crisis, the self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalist” Milei promises a radical about-face: He wants to introduce the US dollar as legal tender, abolish the central bank and many ministries and cut social spending. Government candidate Massa, on the other hand, stood for the previous policy with massive state intervention in the economy and extensive social programs.

Milei benefits from the anger at the ongoing crisis

“No one with such extreme views on economic issues has ever been elected president of a South American country,” said economist Mark Weisbrot of the US research institute Center for Economic and Policy Research. “It barely recognizes a legitimate role for government in some of the most important policy areas that most people see as necessary for a democratic, humane and stable society.”

Milei benefited above all from the anger of many Argentines against the ongoing crisis and the political establishment. With disheveled hair and a running chainsaw, he railed against the political “caste” he hated at election campaign events. The eccentric lives with five cloned giant mastiffs, whom he named after liberal economists such as Milton Friedman and Robert Lucas.

The enfant terrible of Argentine politics also wants to liberalize gun ownership, is against the right to abortion, does not believe in man-made climate change and calls the Argentine Pope Francis a communist. Like former US President Donald Trump and former Brazilian head of state Jair Bolsonaro, he uses anti-system rhetoric, but unlike his role models, he refrains from right-wing extremism and supports, for example, same-sex marriage.

His future vice-president Victoria Villarruel, on the other hand, serves the conservative clientele, maintains contacts with right-wing groups around the world and repeatedly provokes people with statements about the military junta (1976-1983). The daughter of an officer questions the death toll estimated by human rights organizations at 30,000 among government opponents, left-wing activists, trade unionists and students during the dictatorship and, for her part, insists on greater recognition for the victims of left-wing guerrilla groups.

South America’s second largest economy is in a deep economic crisis. The inflation rate is over 140 percent, and around 40 percent of people in the once rich country live below the poverty line. Argentina suffers from a bloated state apparatus, low industrial productivity and a large shadow economy that deprives the state of much tax revenue. The national currency, the peso, continues to lose value against the US dollar and the mountain of debt is constantly growing.

U-turn for Argentina

The victory of the market-liberal Milei represents a real turnaround for Argentina, where the left-wing Peronists have set the tone for over 20 years, the state intervenes massively in the economy, public services are heavily subsidized and in many provinces there are more workers in the public sector than in the private sector.

Now, however, Milei’s ability to compromise will likely be tested, because despite his radical rhetoric, he won’t get far alone. He does not have a majority in parliament, his camp does not have a provincial governor, and he lacks qualified personnel to fill important key positions. The political opponent, on the other hand, can make life difficult for him as head of state: the left-wing Peronists are well organized through trade unions, social movements and party structures down to the smallest communities and are able to paralyze public life in Argentina at any time with protests against the new government.