Argentina’s Extreme Presidential Front-Runner Shocks The Country

Astronomical inflation propels an unorthodox candidate to the top of Argentina's presidential polls.

He is the frontrunner to be Argentina’s next president. He is also a self-described “tantric sex guru” and “anarcho-capitalist,” a Donald Trump fan, a rock singer and a proponent of shutting down the central bank and replacing the peso with the US dollar. Last but not least, he wants to allow people to sell their organs and buy more guns. Far-right libertarian Javier Milei stunned the country’s political establishment when he won the most ballots, or about 30%, in August’s primary election. Should he win October’s general vote, Milei will have a real shot at trying to tackle Argentina’s huge economic and social problems. Experts agree that he is hardly the savior he claims to be.

Milei’s success should not entirely come as a surprise, says Juan Pablo Ferrero of the Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies at the University of Bath: “The main two center-left and center-right coalitions that have been in power for the last eight years have not managed to provide solutions to some of the most pressing issues, poverty and inflation namely.” For some, he adds, Milei also represents a reaction against the advancement of social rights such as the legalization of abortion.

Yet, even amongst his followers, many concede that most of his proposals are impractical or ludicrous, or that he would not last long in government. “It must be taken into account that Argentina is a federal state, and Milei has not managed to win any provincial election, so he would lead a federal state without too much institutional support from subnational governments or parliament,” Ferrero points out. Regardless, people are listening and voting for him: “He speaks as if he were a prophet, quotes the bible, and often sounds knowledgeable.” For all his outlandishness, the 52-year-old son of a bus driver holds a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees in economics.

Most certainly, Ferrero argues, Milei himself never thought he could win: “But now it is one likely scenario, although by no means absolutely certain. Argentina’s civil society is dense, and heavily organized by social movement and trade unions, which will react if a new government decides to radically withdraw the state from its social and economic functions.”