Libertarian Javier Milei stormed to election victory with wild promises of uprooting Argentina's political establishment and dramatically overhauling its ailing economy.
But as he prepares to take office on December 10, the 53-year-old who has on occasion dressed up as superhero alter-ego "Captain Ancap" – short for anarcho-capitalist – has significantly toned down his rhetoric.
Political analysts consulted have held that, even if he has moderated some of his proposals, the bulk of his agenda is intact.
Milei has "shown moderation and pragmatism" as he was confronted with "the challenges of governing," political scientist Rosendo Fraga of the New Majority Study Center think tank told AFP.
But this does not mean that Milei's agenda has been pushed aside.
"Political leaders change ideology for convenience, interests or circumstances, but they do not modify their personality," said Fraga.
What can we expect?
Milei promised in his campaign to “destroy inflation,” now over 140 percent year-to-year, one of the highest ratest in the world.
However, once elected he clarified that the goal will not be fulfilled very quickly. “Lowering inflation will take between 18 and 24 months,” he asserted.
And he warned that in the meantime “there will be stagflation," a term which defines an economy without growth and with inflation, due to "fiscal ordering."
For 2023, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected a contraction of 2.5 percent in Argentine GDP.
Milei has said his first priority was eliminating the budget deficit – 2.4 percent of GDP at the end of 2022 – by the end of next year.
Since his election, Milei has said he intended to achieve this by restructuring debt the central bank holds with private banks through "a market solution, without infringing on rights."
The political outsider had also vowed to slash social spending in a country with a 40 percent poverty rate – he now promises that aid to the "vulnerable" would continue.
During the first stage of his campaign Milei went to political rallies wielding a chainsaw, a symbol of the scope of the cutbacks he plans for public expenditure, which he has estimated at 15 percent of the GDP.
He also announced a State reform, the elimination of subsidies and halting public works. “There’s no money,” was his justification.
Sergio Morresi, PhD in Political Science from the University of São Paulo, has pointed out that in economics, the president-elect “seems to follow a longer path, but with the same objectives, partly because he does not have the political capacity to act otherwise."
The dollarisation of the economy was his most radical proposal, but after being elected Milei explained that he would not promote it immediately. “The idea is to apply it in a year. It’ll be much easier once fiscal numbers start to improve,” he stated alluding to public finances being in the red.
His other workhorse, the reduction of the tax burden, will also have to wait. “It won’t be now. We need the State reform and to prepare the adjustment there to lower taxes,” said Milei.
And even though he confirmed his idea of eliminating the Central Bank, which he holds responsible for the rampant printing of money, he recently pointed out: “We never said it would be instantaneous."
"Milei is... not dogmatic," said Morresi, also of the CONICET scientific research institute.
"We are not witnessing a shift on his part, at least not for now, but he is having to follow a longer path towards the same goals."
Frankly, Milei does not have the political backing in congress to push through his agenda.
His party holds only 38 of 257 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and seven of 72 in the Senate.
Friend or foe?
Milei gained much support from a population weary of successive economic crises for his aggressive stance against the "thieving political caste."
These words are no longer heard.
His triumph has led him to an alliance with right-wing former president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019). His future economy minister, Luis Caputo, used to be in Macri’s Cabinet, as did Patricia Bullrich, the new security minister who was in his rival in the first round of the election and his ally in the run-off.
"Macri does not define things, but he’s someone I listen to very closely. We agree on 80 or 90 percent of issues, on others we don’t and talk about them,” Milei said.
In the middle of the negotiations over the positions of the future government, there is still no certainty about support in Congress.
“His needing alliances due to lack of legislative flow and technical and political teams is something even his electorate seems to accept”, Morresi said, who sees his approach to Macri as “more of a sign of political skill than transformation of his agenda."
During his campaign, Milei called Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva “corrupt” and a “communist.”
Yet his future foreign minister, Diana Mondino, has travelled to Brazil to hand over a personal letter from the president-elect inviting his leftist neighbour to his inauguration on December 10.
There has been a similar turn-around on Argentinian Pope Francis, who candidate Milei had called an "imbecile," "nefarious" and "the evil one."
After his election, the men spoke on the telephone and Milei invited the Pope on a visit.
"He tactically separates general diplomacy from presidential diplomacy," said Morresi.
"He establishes contacts with those he considers inadequate leaders without losing his alignment with... natural allies" such as former presidents Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro – both men Milei has expressed admiration for.
The Argentine media has also been commenting on Milei's apparent turn-around.
"As December 10 approaches, the 'Lion' [as Milei has sometimes referred to himself], is no longer exclusively a carnivore," opined the conservative daily La Nación.
The relative calm has been good for the peso, which plummeted after Milei's election to 1,075 to the dollar but has since recovered to 905 on the parallel currency exchange – a barometer of the anxiety levels of Argentines.
by Sonia Avalos, AFP