Luminaries of the global far right are in raptures over Javier Milei’s thumping election victory in Argentina which experts predict will turn Buenos Aires into a new stomping ground for the populist radical right.
Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro led the merrymaking after their Argentinian ally trounced his rival, the Peronist finance minister Sergio Massa, by nearly 3 million votes in Sunday’s presidential election. The former US president predicted Milei would “truly make Argentina great again” while Brazil’s ex-president applauded a victory for “honesty, progress and freedom”. Bolsonarista and Mileísta activists predicted Milei’s win would be the first in a trio of rightwing conquests that would see Trump and Bolsonaro reclaim power in 2024 and 2026.
In his first post-victory interview on Monday, Milei announced he would travel to the US and Israel – where he has promised to move Argentina’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – before being sworn in on 10 December, alongside his ultra-conservative vice-president elect Victoria Villarruel.
Bolsonaro announced he would attend Milei’s inauguration in Buenos Aires and posted footage of a pally video call with Argentina’s president-elect. “I’m really happy,” Bolsonaro told the radical libertarian economist. “You have a big job ahead of you … and it’s a job that goes beyond Argentina,” Brazil’s former leader added. “Gracias!” Milei replied.
Unlike Bolsonaro, a professional politician who posed as an anti-establishment outsider to win power in 2018, Milei is a genuine newcomer to the world of politics. Born in Buenos Aires in 1970, he played in a Rolling Stones cover band and found fame as a foul-mouthed economic pundit on Argentinian television before being elected to congress in 2021 for his libertarian party Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances). Milei’s mercurial personality, expletive-ridden onscreen outbursts and Britpop-style hairdo have cemented his reputation as ‘El Loco’ (The Madman).
From Bogotá and Santiago to Lisbon and Madrid, other ultra-conservative figures voiced delight at Milei’s landslide victory over the centrist Massa, by 14.47m to 11.51m votes.
André Ventura, the leader of Portugal’s far-right Chega! (Enough!), celebrated Milei’s “struggle to defend society” and Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League, sent his congratulations. Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right party Vox, said Milei had opened “a path of future and hope … for Argentines and all of Latin America”.
Hungary’s president Katalin Novák congratulated Milei on a “great victory”.
In South America, the Chilean ultra-conservative politician José Antonio Kast congratulated Milei for his “resounding triumph”, writing: “The reconstruction of Argentina starts now”.
The Colombian senator María Fernanda Cabal called Milei’s victory a victory for “sanity, common sense [and] the hope of a rebirth for Argentina”. “Once again Latin America’s depredating left has been defeated.”
Sergio Moro, the Brazilian senator who was Jair Bolsonaro’s justice minister, tweeted: “Argentina has won two World Cups in a row.”
Ariel Goldstein, an Argentine academic who studies Latin America’s populist right, said he expected Buenos Aires to become a meeting place for members of the global far right and host an edition of the Madrid Forum, a rightwing “anti-communist” summit founded in 2020 by a thinktank linked to Vox.
As rightwing tributes poured in, the scale of Milei’s victory became clear. The television celebrity turned political sensation beat his Peronist rival in 21 of Argentina’s 23 provinces and came within a whisker of winning in Buenos Aires, a Peronist stronghold, where Massa took 50.89% of votes to Milei’s 49.1%.
In Córdoba, where Milei held his final campaign rally, the wild-haired libertarian trashed his rival by 74.28% to 25.71%. In Mendoza, the result was 71.42% to 28.57%.
Yet for all the rightwing euphoria, experts cautioned against viewing Milei’s election as a sign of a major conservative shift in Argentinian politics.
Yanina Welp, an Argentinian political scientist from the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy, said culture-war issues and identity politics might have influenced some citizens, but voters mostly wanted to punish the Peronists for leading Argentina into one of its worst economic crises in decades.
“Massa is the minister of economy, and the country has [nearly] 150% inflation and almost half of the country is living in poverty. So it’s quite easy to understand the rejection of the status quo,” Welp said. “More than being in favour or Milei or Milei’s program, this is [a vote] against the Peronists and the current government.”
Shila Vilker, the head of consulting firm Trespuntozero, was unsure whether the election had been won by Milei or lost by Massa because, as finance minister, so many voters blamed his government for their economic misery. What was certain, Vilker believed, was that Massa’s “fearmongering campaign” – designed to put voters off Milei by portraying him as an emotionally unstable authoritarian crackpot – had flopped.
“People opted for change,” Vilker said. “The idea of change prevailed over continuity, overcoming any kind of fear, either of the known or the unknown.”
That burning desire for change was writ large around Buenos Aires’s iconic Obelisk on Sunday night, as thousands of Milei voters gathered to toast a new and profoundly unpredictable chapter in their country’s history.
“I think people are relieved change is finally coming. The other option was just no good, we need change and quickly,” said 19-year-old Justine Navarra Beber who was attending her first-ever political rally.
Roman Neveira, a 23-year-old programmer waved a large blue-and-white Argentina flag as drivers cruised past shouting Milei’s slogan: “Viva la libertad, carajo!” (Long live, freedom, dammit!).
“I’m very happy and relieved. Things have been going downhill in Argentina for a long time. The fact that someone different like Milei, who doesn’t talk like a politician and has great ideas, has come out to do something is giving me hope,” Neveira said.
“The current situation is not something easy to fix. We will have to be patient but I’m very excited about what they will do.”
Another reveller, Marcelo Álvarez, trumpeted Milei’s election as a richly deserved repudiation of the self-serving politicians he blamed for ruining millions of lives. “They left people with nothing and now we have won,” the 60-year-old small business owner beamed.
Even so, Álvarez was unsure what the future might hold under Milei, a notoriously erratic political neophyte. Milei’s plans include abolishing the central bank, dollarising the economy and deep austerity measures that many economists fear could further exacerbate Argentina’s crisis.
“Things will either get better soon or they will really go to shit,” Álvarez predicted as the street party raged. “I hope we didn’t get it wrong and come back here to protest in two years.”