Argentina has voted radical hardliner Javier Milei to rule as its next president after a divisive and bitter election.
Mr Milei – a relative political outsider and libertarian economist – has pledged to make deep reforms including abolishing the central bank.
Before the results were formally announced, his counterpart Sergio Massa conceded defeat and congratulated Mr Milei on his victory. Mr Milei will take control of the country on December 10.
Amid rampant 142 per cent inflation and spiralling poverty rates, he campaigned on dollarising the economy, dismantling the Central Bank, slashing social subsidies and halving the number of government ministries.
He heavily criticised what he calls the country’s “corrupt political caste”, and has vowed to cut ties with China – one of the South American country’s biggest trading partners – aligning instead with the United States.
The election was highly polarised, with thousands attending mass protests against many of Mr Milei’s proposals and comments, and voters tussling over opposing ideologies in neighbourhood rallies.
Mr Milei, a self-proclaimed “anarcho-capitalist”, sparked fierce debate for denying crimes committed by Argentina’s 1976-83 bloody military dictatorship. He also pledged to hold a referendum on revoking abortion access, and said he will privatise state institutions and loosen gun restrictions.
In the week leading up the election, the 53-year-old had backtracked on some of his most controversial policies, in a last-ditch bid to appeal to moderate voters. His recalibration came after he scored a disappointing first-round election result in October, taking 30 per cent compared to Mr Massa’s 37 per cent, and below pollsters’ expectations.
Mr Milei was aided in his bid to attract moderate voters after centre-Right candidate Patricia Bullrich was eliminated after the first round and urged her 24 per cent electorate to support Mr Milei’s La Libertad Avanza party.
Mr Massa, meanwhile, was largely seen as the continuation candidate of the current government, a deeply unpopular administration which has been blamed for the economic crisis.
Facing off against Mr Milei’s fervent rallies and chainsaw-wielding stunts, Mr Massa had attempted to portray himself as the ‘sensible’ option and had promised to create a government of national unity. But many voters viewed him as fickle and incapable of delivering the change Argentina needs.
Economists warned of ‘devastation’
At a polling station in the neighbourhood of Villa Crespo on Sunday morning, Romina Bernal, aged 28, told the Telegraph that Mr Massa was the only candidate who would guarantee workers’ rights and a stable democracy.
“Milei vindicates a genocide, vindicates the dictatorship,” Ms Bernal said. “It is about more than the economic crisis – that can be remedied – but we must be on the side of memory, truth and justice.”
As Mr Milei cast his own vote on Sunday afternoon, tensions escalated with supporters swarming their wild-haired idol, launching fireworks, and chanting “Milei Presidente”.
One young woman, whose apartment looked down on the scene, threw a drink down onto Mr Milei’s car and screamed out the number of those who were killed by the dictatorship. Dozens of riot police watched on.
Alida Aranda, aged 46, attended with her 16-year-old son. Both voted for Mr Milei.
“I was born in 1977 and this is my fourth economic crisis. We want to untangle the corrupt system, it is not the perfect solution but we are against the ropes – between a really bad option and a slightly better one,” she said.
When asked about Mr Milei’s more extreme policies, Mrs Aranda said: “He can’t do everything he says.”
In an open letter published ahead of the election, more than 100 leading economists warned Mr Milei’s proposals could cause economic “devastation” and social chaos.
Many Argentine’s spoke of being forced to choose between “two bad options”, and 24 per cent spoiled their ballot or refused to vote.
Mr Milei entered politics three years ago, after finding fame as a television panellist and on social media sites like TikTok.
It remains to be seen how many of Mr Milei’s policies he can push through – he has no governors or mayors, and his party controls just 38 of 257 seats in the lower house and eight of 72 in the senate.
Supporters of Mr Massa said on Sunday they do not think their new president will last “more than six months”.