< Back to 68k.news US front page

The Guardian view on Argentina's new president: a dark day for democracy | Editorial

Original source (on modern site) | Article images: [1]

Javier Milei's landslide election victory, with 55.7% of the vote to his rival's 44.3%, is not only terrible news for Argentina but terrifying for many. In a country celebrating 40 years of hard-won democracy, the far-right economist threatens to turn the clock back.

It would be easy to mock the former TV celebrity and tantric sex coach, who wielded a chainsaw at rallies and promised that he would take it to the state. But his election as president is no joke. Among the 53-year-old libertarian's ideas are a referendum to overturn the legalisation of abortion, reducing gun ownership restrictions, making the trade in organs lawful, slashing social spending and abolishing the central bank. He has called the Argentina-born Pope Francis "the representative of the evil one on Earth", smeared the victims of the military dictatorship as "terrorists" and claimed that their death toll was far smaller than the accepted 30,000 figure.

His win is bad news globally too, and not only because he dismisses climate change as a "socialist lie". It is a filip for the far right around the world, and was welcomed as far away as Europe. Donald Trump, to whom Mr Milei has often been compared, and the former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, were swift to congratulate him.

Argentina is a deeply polarised country, in which passionate political hatreds ensured support for the anti-Peronist candidate. But it is unsurprising that other voters too balked at backing their finance minister for president when annual inflation stands at 140% and 40% of the 45 million population lives in poverty. Sergio Massa cannot be blamed for the country's long-term and deep-rooted economic crisis. But out of desperation, many voters who do not share Mr Milei's extremism apparently concluded that he couldn't be worse than the incumbents.

If only. More than 100 leading economists warned that a Milei presidency would lead to further economic devastation and chaos. He has attacked the leaders of the country's four largest trading partners - Brazil, China, the US and Chile. His main prescription - scrapping the peso and dollarising the economy - is probably unrealisable, not least because the government doesn't have the dollars to do so. But even a half-hearted attempt could wreak chaos.

After surprising the country with his victory in the primaries, then falling short in the first round, Mr Milei curbed some of his excesses and sought to portray himself as more moderate in the runoff. The anti-establishment candidate secured the support of establishment figures: his first-round rival Patricia Bullrich and the former president Mauricio Macri. Set against that are his political inclinations and the scale of his win. In his victory speech, he promised "drastic change, without gradualism".

Some argue that with little experience, no majority in congress and an erratic temperament, Mr Milei may not be able to do much or last long. Yet even in a short time, he could wreak significant damage; Victoria Villarruel, his vice-president, is waiting in the wings should he falter, and there is no indication that he can be counted on to accept a rejection by the people. Prior to the election, he complained of fraud. In the last three years, the US and Brazil have offered powerful reminders of the fragility of democracy. Mr Trump and Mr Bolsonaro have highlighted the truth in the idea that when someone tells you who they are, you should believe them the first time. Argentina's painful history, and Mr Milei's platform, provide good reason to be concerned for its future.

< Back to 68k.news US front page