Far-right populist gaining momentum in Argentina presidential election

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Far-right populist Javier Milei shook Argentina’s political establishment on Sunday by emerging as the biggest voter in the primaries and choosing presidential candidates for October’s general election in an economically troubled country.

Milei, an admirer of former US President Donald Trump, says Argentina’s central bank should be abolished, believes climate change is a lie, characterizes sex education as a ploy to destroy families, believes selling human organs should be legal and wanting that to be the case it’s easier to own handguns.

The votes were still being tallied late Sunday, but analysts agreed that the up-and-coming candidate, who rose to fame – and a rock star-like following – through angry rants against the “political caste” – has done much better than expected and in this one Respect a real contender for the presidency is South American country.

With around 92% of polling stations reporting, Milei had around 30% of the total votes according to official results. The candidates from the main opposition coalition, United for Change, got 28% and the current governing coalition, Union for the Homeland, got 27%.

At the celebration at his election headquarters, Milei vowed to put an end to “the parasitic, corrupt and useless political caste that exists in this country.”

“Today we took the first step in rebuilding Argentina,” he said. “Another Argentina with the same people as always is impossible.”

“I am very happy, we are looking for a change. We're sick of living like this,
“I am very happy, we are looking for a change. We’re sick of living like this,” said Franco Lesertessur, 19, as he celebrated in front of Mileis’ polling station in downtown Buenos Aires.

Ahead of the election, analysts had warned that a better-than-expected performance by 52-year-old Milei would likely anger financial markets and cause the Argentine peso to plummet in value amid uncertainties over what economic policies he might implement if he becomes president.

Although Sunday’s vote was officially about picking candidates for different political blocs, it was also seen as a nationwide survey of where the candidates stand when Argentines head to October’s elections.

Milei, who has been a member of the lower house of the Argentine Congress since 2021, had no competitor in the presidential primaries of his Liberty Advances party.

The early results suggest that Argentina is the latest country in the region where voters are citing an outsider candidate as a means of venting their anger at traditional politicians.

Discontent is widespread in Argentina, which is struggling with annual inflation exceeding 100%, rising poverty and a rapidly depreciating currency. Milei gained support by urging the country to replace the peso with the US dollar.

“I am very happy, we are looking for a change. We’re sick of living like this,” said Franco Lesertessur, 19, as he celebrated in front of Mileis’ polling station in downtown Buenos Aires. “All the countries that adopted the dollar made progress and had no more inflation.”

In the main opposition coalition, United for Change, voters also seemed poised to move further to the right as former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich smashed a more centrist candidate, Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta.

Bullrich made it clear that she would work with her competitor before October.

“As Argentines we live in need and fear and are unable to dream, plan or live a normal life. But today we have reasons to work together to lead and guide profound change in Argentina, change that will leave corruption behind forever and pave the way for austerity,” Bullrich said.

The ruling coalition, Union for the Homeland, was beaten by voters because of the poor economy and finished third in the total number of votes. As expected, Economy Minister Sergio Massa became the coalition’s presidential candidate, easily defeating leftist Juan Grabois.

“We have 60 days to change this election,” Massa told his supporters.

But with the big result for Milei, many voters have signaled that they are fed up with the two coalitions that have dominated Argentina’s political scene for years.

The results “reflect people’s fatigue with political leadership and the lack of solutions in the areas that have successively held power,” said Mariel Fornoni, director of Management and Fit, a political consultancy.

Fornoni said that during the campaigns, the political establishment “focused on its own group dynamics rather than addressing people’s actual needs.”

At Milei’s polling station, party leaders were ecstatic, while outside, people were celebrating. They expressed optimism that support for their candidate would only grow in the run-up to October.

“I like his ideas about freedom. His ideas don’t scare me. People are free to choose what they want,” said Orlando Sánchez, 26, a retail worker. “If criminals go around with guns on their belts, why can’t an ordinary citizen legally own a gun with the proper documentation? People are obviously tired of politics and constantly being lied to.”

Associated Press journalists Almudena Calatrava, Débora Rey, and Natacha Pisarenko contributed to this report.

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