Could a self-described anarcho-capitalist become president of Argentina?
With 97 percent of votes counted, Javier Milei and his La Libertad Avanza (Liberty Moves Forward) coalition received about 32 percent of the total vote in the national primary election on Sunday. The main conservative coalition (Together for Change) had 29.7 percent, and the Peronist coalition Unity for the Homeland (led by Minister of Economy Sergio Massa) had 28.7 percent. Since voting is mandatory in Argentina, this primary effectively served as a first ballot, though the first round of the general election is on October 22.
Pollsters expected Milei to get 20 percent or less of the vote, so his success comes as a shock to many people. The political establishment and the markets were expecting a relatively close election between Together for Change and Unity for the Homeland. Instead, a man who calls himself an anarcho-capitalist is in the lead.
A relatively unknown economist until about five years ago, Milei rose to fame in Argentina as a TV commentator criticizing then-President Mauricio Macri for not being pro-market. His hot-tempered style and profanity made him popular among young people, and he quickly became the country's preeminent libertarian voice, calling for the elimination of the central bank and quoting intellectuals like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek on prime time.
When Macri failed to stabilize Argentina's economy and lost his reelection bid in 2019, Milei jumped into politics in a controversial alliance with national conservatives that he has maintained until today. When he ran for Congress in 2021, he received 17 percent of the vote in the city of Buenos Aires, enough to win a spot in the Argentine Chamber of Deputies.
During the 2023 presidential campaign, Milei's main proposal has been to eradicate inflation by dollarizing the economy—that is, by treating the U.S. dollar as the national currency. He also favors deregulating industries, privatizing state-owned companies, and bringing an end to budget deficits.
Milei's social agenda, in turn, mixes libertarian and conservative elements. Unlike any other candidate, he advocates for private gun ownership to counter crime, but he opposes abortion. It is gay marriage, though, where the ideological complexity of his candidacy becomes clear: While he has said government should not regulate any marriages at all, his Catholic running mate has publicly opposed it. Both abortion and same-sex marriage are currently legal in Argentina, though.
Political commentators expected Milei's constant insults against other politicians to hurt him. But blaming his rivals for Argentina's problems seems to have been a successful strategy. It's unclear whether his ideas or his temper did more to earn him 30 percent of the vote, but his support is still substantial.
Milei is by no means guaranteed a victory in October's general election. He will come under attack from all sides: He has taken some unpopular stands, such as supporting a free market in body organs, and he will be accused of not being prepared for the presidency. Because of his alliances, he will also be accused of not being a true libertarian, and he is already called a "fascist" by his opponents. But his chances are certainly well above zero. One thing is certain: As his campaign song goes, "la casta tiene miedo." The system is afraid.