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Argentine libertarian Milei pledges new political era after election win

Published Nov 19, 2023 05:28AM ET Updated Nov 20, 2023 12:03AM ET
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4/4 © Reuters. A view of ballot boxes and voting materials inside a truck, ahead of Argentina's runoff presidential election, at a school in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 18, 2023. REUTERS/Adriano Machado 2/4

By Nicolás Misculin, Lucinda Elliott and Walter Bianchi

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -Argentina elected right-wing libertarian Javier Milei as its new president on Sunday, rolling the dice on an outsider with radical views to fix an economy battered by triple-digit inflation, a looming recession and rising poverty.

Milei, who rode a wave of voter anger with the political mainstream, won by a wider-than-expected margin. He landed some 56% of the vote versus just over 44% for his rival, Peronist Economy Minister Sergio Massa, who conceded.

"The model of decadence has come to an end, there's no going back," Milei said in a defiant speech after the result, while also acknowledging the challenges that face him.

"We have monumental problems ahead: inflation, lack of work, and poverty," he said. "The situation is critical and there is no place for tepid half-measures."

In downtown Buenos Aires hundreds of Milei supporters honked horns and chanted his popular refrain against the political elite - "out with all of them" - as rock music played from speakers. Some people set off fireworks as excitement spread.

"We came to celebrate this historic triumph," said Efrain Viveros, a 21-year-old student from the province of Salta. "I'm honestly ecstatic. Milei represents change, for the better. With Massa we'd have had no future, our future has returned."

Milei is pledging economic shock therapy. His plans include shutting the central bank, ditching the peso, and slashing spending, potentially painful reforms that resonated with voters angry at the economic malaise.

"Milei is the new thing, he's a bit of an unknown and it is a little scary, but it's time to turn over a new page," said 31-year-old restaurant worker Cristian as he voted on Sunday.

Milei's challenges are enormous. He will have to deal with the empty coffers of the government and central bank, a creaking $44 billion debt program with the International Monetary Fund, inflation nearing 150% and a dizzying array of capital controls.

Some Argentines had characterized the vote as a choice of the "lesser evil": fear of Milei's painful economic medicine versus anger at Massa and his Peronist party for an economic crisis that has left Argentina deeply in debt and unable to tap global credit markets.

Milei has been particularly popular among the young, who have grown up seeing their country lurch from one crisis to another.

"Perhaps not everything Milei says I agree with or can identify with but he is our future," said Irene Sosa, a 20-year-old student celebrating outside his election bunker. "Milei represents a future for young people like me, Massa was everything that is wrong with our country."

Milei's win shakes up Argentina's political landscape and economic roadmap, and could impact trade in grains, lithium and hydrocarbons. Milei has criticized China and Brazil, saying he won't deal with "communists," and favors stronger U.S. ties.

Despite that, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wished Milei luck and success after the result was announced, adding that it was important democracy was respected.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Milei and said the libertarian would make Argentina great again.

Leftist Colombian President Gustavo Petro, meanwhile, said it was a "sad day" for the region.

'PROFOUND RUPTURE'

The victory of Milei, a 53-year-old economist and former TV pundit, has broken the hegemony of the two leading political forces on the left and right - the Peronists that have dominated Argentine politics since the 1940s and its main opposition, the Together for Change conservative bloc.

"The election marks a profound rupture in the system of political representation in Argentina," said Julio Burdman, director of the consultancy Observatorio Electoral, ahead of the vote.

The campaign of Massa, 51, an experienced political wheeler-dealer, had sought to appeal to voter fears about Milei's volatile character and plans to cut back the size of the state.

"Milei's policies scare me," teacher Susana Martinez, 42, said on Sunday after she voted for Massa.

Milei is staunchly anti-abortion, favors looser gun laws and has criticized Argentine Pope Francis. He used to carry a chainsaw in a symbol of his planned cuts but shelved it in recent weeks to help boost his moderate image.

After October's first-round vote, Milei struck an uneasy alliance with the conservatives. But he faces a highly fragmented Congress, with no single bloc having a majority, meaning that he will need to get backing from other factions to push through legislation. Milei's coalition also does not have any regional governors or mayors.

That may temper some of his more radical proposals. Long-suffering voters are likely to have little patience, and the threat of social unrest is never far below the surface.

His backers say only he can uproot the political status quo and economic malaise that has dogged South America's second-largest economy for years.

"Milei is the only viable option so we do not end up in misery," said Santiago Neria, a 34-year-old accountant.

Argentine libertarian Milei pledges new political era after election win
 

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Comments (21)
Maximus Maximus
Maximus Maximus Nov 20, 2023 8:54AM ET
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funny that he's not crying fraud anymore now after he himself has 'won' the election... in the rightwing r(etard) paralell universe, it's only fraud if the left wins, never when the radical right seizes power...
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi Nov 20, 2023 8:54AM ET
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and to no one's surprise, the polls predicting his victory were right, because of all the liberal media bias, or something like that
Stephen Fa
Stephen Fa Nov 20, 2023 8:35AM ET
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I'll be surprised if he's still alive in one year.
Brad Albright
Brad Albright Nov 20, 2023 8:35AM ET
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Another of your worthless predictions.
Jan Vissers
Jan Vissers Nov 20, 2023 1:52AM ET
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Waaaw, this grand. Milei has to be hard in his reformes, otherwise it slips back tot communism.
Hunt Richardson
Hunt Richardson Nov 19, 2023 10:11PM ET
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Wow tall order, good luck with all that. Make Argentina Grande Again!
Maximus Maximus
Maximus Maximus Nov 19, 2023 9:49PM ET
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hopefully, the good people of Argentina will be able to oust him again after the coming 4 years of miserable failure and that he, like trump, fails to turn the country into a neo-fascist dictatorship...
Mark Gesswein
Mark Gesswein Nov 19, 2023 9:49PM ET
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I love how you libs cry so hard when citizens finally figure out that Leftist policies don’t work, and decide they’d like to actually win for a change.
Midnight Trader
Midnight Trader Nov 19, 2023 9:49PM ET
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We will see
Tom Cur
Tom Cur Nov 19, 2023 8:19PM ET
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Let's stop big goverment next year
Maximus Maximus
Maximus Maximus Nov 19, 2023 8:19PM ET
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yes, vote trump to make him fascist dictator for life, like his master in moscow...
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi Nov 19, 2023 8:19PM ET
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yes let's stop the guy who added $8T to the national debt in just 4 years getting his second term
Eureka Archimides
Eureka Archimides Nov 19, 2023 7:56PM ET
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Where is his picture ? ...can't be found. Ohoh.
Warm Camp
Warm Camp Nov 19, 2023 7:56PM ET
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A day of mourning at Reuters.
Tom Saltzman
Tom Saltzman Nov 19, 2023 7:46PM ET
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❤️
Jose Desseno
Jose Desseno Nov 19, 2023 7:29PM ET
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buy ARGT ETF
Stephen Fa
Stephen Fa Nov 19, 2023 7:29PM ET
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Things may get worse before better.
Roberto De Jesus
Roberto De Jesus Nov 19, 2023 7:27PM ET
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Don't cry for me, Argentina. I have just passed for this, now i'm free
 
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