Javier Milei speaks to supporters after winning the presidential election runoff at his party headquarters in Buenos Aires on Sunday. AFP
Argentina’s President-elect Javier Milei, 53, is an economist-turned-TV-pundit, and a political outsider who had promised to smash the old system by closing the central bank, abandoning the peso and replacing it with the dollar, and withdrawing most of the state-supported subsidy schemes.
Milei is an extreme free market proponent. It is interesting and surprising that it is the young and the poor who have opted for Milei, and they seem to believe that he is only answer to the nightmare staring Argentina in the face with 150 per cent inflation rate and a $44 billion debt programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Milei had won 56 per cent of the vote in the run-off after the conservative candidate dropped off and he was left facing the ruling Peronist finance minister Sergio Massa who mustered 44 per cent of the vote. But the impressive margin of Milei’s victory may not be a great solace to the winner because he faces a congress which is split into many groups, and none of them with a majority.
Milei would have the difficult task of bringing together diverse groups to support his plan. Milei was however sounding upbeat after his victory. He said, “The model of decadence has come to an end, there’s no going back. We have monumental problems ahead: inflation, lack of work, poverty. The situation is critical and there is no place for tepid half-measures.”
Why did the young and the poor then vote for Milei, who is generally described as Donald Trump-like – Milei is a self-confessed admirer of the maverick former US president – as a right-wing maverick?
It seems the people were fed up with the impasse in the present without any hope of a breakthrough and without a future of hope.
Twenty-one-year old Efrain Viveros said of Milei’s win: “We came here to celebrate the historic triumph. I’m honestly ecstatic. Milei represents change, for the better. With Massa we’d have had no future, our future has returned.”
Thirty-one-year-old restaurant worker Cristian said on Sunday after the vote: “Milei is the new thing, he’s a bit of an unknown and it’s a little scary, but it’s time to turn over a new page.”
Milei has said in one of his bravado remarks that he would have nothing to do with Brazil and China because they are ‘communist’ and that he would like Argentina to move closer to America. He wants greater American investments in Argentina, and he sees it as a way out of the country’s economic crisis.
He may realise that the American businesses would come in to reap profits and it may not always pull Argentina out of the economic pit it finds itself in. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva congratulated Milei and wished him luck.
It is interesting that Brazil had voted in a left-of-centre Lula da Silva and defeated right-wing Jair Bolsonaro. Brazil was in economic and political trouble as Bolsonaro tried to work his right-wing ideas of keeping the state out of the economy, and people suffered immensely, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a democracy, people are choosing leaders of different ideological stripes, hoping that they would fix the problems. But when people vote they do so with hope and expectation, and this could be seen in last year’s Brazilian presidential election as also in Sunday’s Argentinian presidential election.
There is optimism and energy in people’s choices even when they are not sure as to how things will turn out.
Julio Burdman, director of Observatorio Electoral, a consultancy, said, “The election marks a profound rupture in the system of political representation in Argentina.”
This is more than an election when presidents change. Many believe that this is a radical election.
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