The appeal of Argentina's radical libertarian Javier Milei

Chainsaw-wielding Trump admirer and 'tantric sex coach' elected president thanks to beleaguered economy

Argentinian president-elect Javier Miliel
Milei, 53, has vowed to do away with the peso and shut down the central bank amid soaring inflation and poverty
(Image credit: Tomas Cuesta / Getty Images)

A self-avowed "tantric sex coach" and chainsaw-wielding far-right libertarian might seem an unlikely attraction for a country grappling with serious financial woes.

But Javier Milei, a former economics professor and daytime TV star, has been elected president of Argentina, "catapulting South America's second-largest economy into an unpredictable and potentially turbulent future", said The Guardian. The "volatile" Milei, 53, secured 56% of the vote, with 44% going to his opponent Sergio Massa, the economy minister in Argentina's centre-left Peronist government. It was a result that shocked the political establishment. 

Argentina's "sharp swing to the right" comes amid an economic crisis, said Politico, with inflation "soaring" to 143% and two-fifths of the nation "living in poverty". Milei, a "self-described anarcho-capitalist" and admirer of Donald Trump, campaigned on "radical changes" like swapping the Argentine peso for the US dollar, shutting the central bank and "gutting public spending".

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"Today the reconstruction of Argentina begins," Milei told supporters at his campaign headquarters in Buenos Aires, calling his victory a "miracle".

'An academic, not a politician'

Milei's popularity with voters is partially down to his use of social media, said the Buenos Aires Times. There are "hundreds of accounts online that support him", including one – "Juego de Milei" (Milei's game) – that includes a link to a mobile game through which users can play as Milei and "fight against leftists, the political caste and the central bank". 

Milei's online campaign used a form of "horizontal communication", according to the journalist and data analyst Diego Corbalán, in which the candidate himself is not in control of the flow of information, but many social media accounts endorsed by him disseminate his message. The message is conveyed through what Corbalán calls "a natural movement of the young people" on social media that are sharing content, as opposed to the more traditional "vertical" campaigns that are based on information coming from the candidates. 

Indeed, one key factor has been "the devoted following he has whipped up among young, largely male voters", said Al Jazeera: some are "devoted libertarians"; others "merely curious" and "disaffected" with the political establishment. Milei has "consistently led polls of voters between the ages of 16 and 35", unlike other right-wing populists like Trump and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, who "struggled to win over younger generations". 

"I think what moved me the most was the simple way he explained concepts," David Urbani, a 20-year-old economics student from Mar del Plata, told Al Jazeera. "The guy is an academic, not a politician."

Massa's 'electoral millstone'

Despite the "fervent" support for Milei, his success owes more to the failures of his opponent, said Sam Meadows in The Spectator. Sergio Massa took the lead in October's first poll, with Milei coming second, but the finance minister's "inability" to tackle the nation's economic woes over the past year "ultimately proved an electoral millstone he was unable to shrug off". Inflation is the fourth highest in the world, and the country owes "gargantuan" debts to the IMF. 

In order to "halt the slide", the majority of voters have placed their trust in Milei's "radical ideas", said the South America-based Meadows. He intends to do this by "smashing up years of economic orthodoxy", and even suggesting liberalising markets for guns and human organs. However, "perhaps in a bid to appeal to moderates", Milei "had rowed back on his commitment to these ideas in recent weeks". 

Amid these uncertainties, for many Argentinians the "overwhelming reaction" to his success was "fear at what their country could become". 

After spending most of a century "in thrall to one self-destructive economic ideology", said the Financial Times' newsletter "Trade Secrets", Argentina has "decided to have a shot at another" after Milei takes office in December. "How a country manages to hop straight from Peronism to reactionary anarcho-capitalism without ever having a go at boring old liberal social democracy is a wonder to behold."

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