Javier Milei, a far-right libertarian, won the Argentine primary elections.

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The La Libertad Avanza candidate seeks to abolish the Central Bank in its present form and adopt the US dollar as the country’s currency; he received 30 per cent of the vote in the presidential election.

A far-right Libertarian candidate won Sunday’s presidential primary in surprising support for a politician who wants to adopt the US dollar as Argentina’s official currency.

Congressman, economist and former television commentator Javier Milei, 52, achieved 30 per cent of the votes after 96 per cent of the ballots were counted, which put him in the lead in the race for the presidency in the general elections of autumn.

Polls had suggested Milei’s support was hovering around 20 per cent, and political analysts anticipated that his radical policy proposals – including abolishing the central bank – would prevent him from attracting many more voters.

But Sunday’s votes made it clear that Milei now has a clear chance to rule Argentina.

“This result is going to be a surprise for him too,” said Pablo Touzon, an Argentine political consultant. “Until now it was a protest phenomenon.”

Argentina’s general elections, which will take place in October and could go to a second round in November, will test the strength of the extreme right in the world. In several powerful countries, such as the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and Finland, the hard right has gained influence in recent years, although it has also suffered defeats, such as in Spain and Brazil.

Milei has been billed as the radical change required by the collapse of the Argentine economy and, if elected, could shock the system. In addition to his ideas on the currency and the central bank, he has proposed slashing taxes and cutting public spending, including by charging people to use the public health system. He has also talked about closing or privatizing state companies, as well as eliminating the ministries of Health, Education and the Environment.

Sergio Massa, the centre-left economy minister, came in second in the primary with 21 per cent of the vote. Patricia Bullrich, a conservative and former security minister, came in third with 17 per cent.

General elections will take place on October 22, but it seems likely that the race will be decided on November 19, in a second round. Argentina’s three coalitions have similar levels of support, judging by Sunday’s results, which means it is highly unlikely that either candidate will achieve more than the 50 percent needed to win in the first round.

Both coalitions fell slightly behind Milei’s total : candidates from the centre-right coalition received a combined 28 per cent of the vote on Sunday, while the centre-left coalition got 27 per cent.

The centre-left ruling party has held power in Argentina for 16 of the last 20 years and has been largely controlled by former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner .

“We have managed to build this competitive alternative that will not only end Kirchnerism but will also end the stupid and useless parasitic political caste that is sinking this country,” Milei told her supporters in a speech Sunday night. He then thanked his campaign manager, his sister, and their five mastiff dogs, named after conservative economists.

Argentina has endured economic crises for decades and is in one of the worst situations. The Argentine peso has plummeted, annual inflation has exceeded 115 per cent, almost 40 per cent of the population lives in poverty, and the country is struggling to pay its $44 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund.

Milei has said that his economic policies would be shaped by an austerity package that goes even further than what the IMF asks of Argentina.

It could also have a profound effect on other areas of Argentine society. He and his running mate, a lawyer who has defended the military dictatorship of the past, have hinted that they would relax gun laws, they would reverse policies that allow abortion and even allow the sale of human organs, an example of a trade that Milei says is not the government’s business.

However, implementing such changes would be a significant challenge. Sunday’s results suggest that if Milei were elected, he would have limited support in Congress. His party, La Libertad Avanza, indicated it would control only eight of the 72 seats in the Senate and 35 of the 257 in the Chamber of Deputies, based on results obtained by his other candidates.

Touzon said Milei would have less institutional support than far-right candidates who have swept their way to power in recent years, including Trump and former President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. “Bolsonaro relied on the army. Trump had the Republican Party. Milei has nothing,” he said.

He added that Milei’s financial plan, while radical, is not detailed and has been changed frequently. “His dollarization plan was changed 50 times,” Touzon said. “But today they don’t have a team to govern Argentina.”

And yet, Milei has proven to be a slick internet-age politician, with a signature scowl and unkempt hair that has given him a flood image and an easy target for internet memes, much like Trump and Bolsonaro.

In a public video released before the vote, Bolsonaro supported Milei and said they were kindred political spirits. “We have many things in common,” he said, citing what he called his support for private property, freedom of expression, the free market and the right to self-defence.

Argentines who voted for Milei on Sunday, similar to supporters of Trump and Bolsonaro, said they liked him because he was a political newcomer who would turn a flawed system on its head and tell it like it is.

“The Argentine people finally woke up,” said Rebeca Di Iorio, 44, an administrative worker celebrating at the Milei street party in Buenos Aires. “Argentina needs that, it needs a change.”

Santiago Manoukian, head of research at Ecolatina, an Argentine economic consultancy, said that of the different scenarios that analysts envisioned for the primaries, Milei’s victory was the least expected.

Now he would have to rethink his forecasts, Manoukian said, as Milei has a clear shot at making the second round, which could be a flip.

“Milei was not a competitive runoff candidate,” Manoukian said. “Now something very different would be happening.”

Source: New York Times

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