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ARGENTINA | 17-11-2023 01:01

Javier Milei, the fiery outsider who upended Argentine politics

With his wild hair, angry outbursts and a powered-up chainsaw, Javier Milei has had a meteoric rise.

With his wild hair, angry outbursts and a powered-up chainsaw, Javier Milei has had a meteoric rise from obscurity to become a candidate in Argentina's presidential election run-off this Sunday.

The 53-year-old economist with a rock-star persona blindsided experts when he first emerged as a serious contender by winning an August primary election with 30 percent.

His rants against the country's traditional political parties struck a nerve with voters weary of decades of economic decline and inflation which has hit 143 percent over the past 12 months.

Milei "is to some extent the equivalent of the [former Brazil leader Jair] Bolsonaro or the [Donald] Trump of this world but with a big difference.  Milei came from nowhere... and his popularity came from the disaster of the bad performance of the economy in the last 12 years," said economist Andrés Borenstein, with the Econviews think tank.

While described alternately as libertarian, far-right, or antiestablishment, Milei's political views are hard to pin down.

He describes himself as an "anarcho-capitalist" who is "above all for freedom."

He has promised to replace the struggling peso with the US dollar, ditch the central bank, and is opposed to abortion and sex education. He also does not believe humans are responsible for climate change.

With a youthful social media team he has carried out his campaign partially on TikTok and YouTube, firing up the youth.

"What exists now doesn't work for me. Maybe this change would be good," said Milei supporter Matías Esoukourian, a 19-year-old economics student.

But he concedes Milei "lacks political experience and often, including in the debate, it is evident," he said, after the candidate's poor performance in his final televised stand-off with Massa.

Milei accused Massa of planting "coughers" on his side of the audience to distract him in the final debate, and of trying to depict him as "emotionally unstable."

 

Rebrand

After surging to the front of the election race, Milei again surprised by finishing seven points behind his main rival, Economy Minister Sergio Massa.

He has been forced to rebrand ahead of the run-off to appeal to moderate voters after winning the support of Patricia Bullrich of the centre-right opposition coalition, which placed third.

His famed chainsaw – a symbol of cuts he wanted to make to public spending – has been nowhere to be seen.

"It has been a pretty significant shift," said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Argentina Project at the Washington-based Wilson Center.

"He was very comfortable being this iconoclastic figure who was eccentric and thought that he could sail into the presidency merely on the strength of his attacks on the establishment."

However, he realised his approach, which included insulting Pope Frances, had become a "political liability."

Milei has since said his dollarisation programme would be incremental, but he insists he will shut the Central Bank and end the "cancer of inflation."

He has also raised the spectre of fraud by complaining about irregularities in the first-round.

Massa accused him of apeing Bolsonaro and Trump who both cried foul after losing elections, sparking riots in Washington and Brasilia.

 

Cloned dogs

Milei was born in Buenos Aires, playing football and singing in a Rolling Stones cover band in his youth.

He began appearing on television shows in 2015, his red-faced rants against the government gaining traction on social media.

His party La Libertad Avanza was only formed before 2021 elections when he became a lawmaker for Buenos Aires.

Unmarried and childless, he is known for his love of dogs, and owns four large mastiffs named after liberal economists.

According to El loco, the unauthorised biography from journalist Juan Luis González, Milei never accepted the death of his first dog, Conan, and all his other pooches are clones he had made in the United States.

Political analyst Virginia Oliveros, speaking during an online webinar on the election, said that if Milei won, the transition would be "absolute chaos."

"He has no team, no plan. It's not clear what he's going to do. One day he says one thing, the next day another. I think that people are not going to have any patience with him, that the honeymoon is not going to last 15 minutes."

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by Fran Blandy, AFP

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