Javier Milei, a ‘Mini-Trump’, could be the next president of Argentina | ET REALITY

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He made his name derogatory people in TV. he levels hard attacks against online critics. he does sports a rebellious hairstyle that has become a meme. And now he is the leader of the extreme right of his country.

Donald J. Trump, and his rise to the US presidency in 2016, shares some striking similarities with the man behind the moment unfolding in Argentina, the country’s new political sensation, Javier Milei.

Milei, a libertarian economist and television pundit, was once seen as a sideshow in Argentina’s presidential race, not taken seriously by the media or his opponents. Now, after a brazen, external campaign based on the promise that he alone can fix the country’s deep economic problems: he is the favorite to win Sunday’s elections or go to a second round next month.

Milei, 52, has already disrupted the politics of this nation of 46 million people. Her promises to eliminate Argentina’s central bank and abandon its currency for the US dollar have dominated the national conversation, while helping to fuel a further collapse in the value of the Argentine peso.

But it has been his bellicose political style that has drawn comparisons with Trump, as well as widespread concern in Argentina and beyond about the damage his government could inflict on Latin America’s third-largest economy.

Milei has attacked the press and the Pope; He declared climate change part of “the socialist agenda”; He called China, Argentina’s second largest trading partner, a “killer”; fiance looser gun controls; she claimed that he is the victim of electoral fraud; disputed the most recent presidential elections in the United States and Brazil; and he suggested that the far-right riots that followed those votes were leftist plots.

“He is clearly a mini-Trump,” said Federico Finchelstein, an Argentine who chairs the history department at the New School in New York and studies the far right around the world.

Milei, Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, the former president of Brazil, are all prominent practitioners of the modern trend of far-right politics, Finchelstein said, marked by vulgarity, attacks on institutions, discrediting the media, distrust in science, a cult of personality and narcissism.

“Trump is an icon of this new form of extreme populism,” Finchelstein said. “And Milei wants to emulate him.”

Milei has accepted comparisons with Trump, whom he has called “one of the best presidents in the history of the United States.” He has worn “Make Argentina Great Again” hats and, like Trump, waged his campaign primarily on social media. And in the two months leading up to Sunday’s vote, he gave an interview to an American television personality: former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Milei’s campaign declined repeated requests for an interview with The New York Times.

With two master’s degrees in economics, Milei can seem professorial at times, opining on monetary policy and a strain of libertarianism he follows called anarcho-capitalism.

He has called the State “a criminal organization” that collects taxes “at gunpoint.” And he says his mission is to reduce the size of government and eliminate it from people’s lives, starting with Argentina’s central bank.

His libertarian ideals have also made him less conservative on some social issues. He has said that as long as the state doesn’t have to pay for it, he could support drug legalization, open immigration, sex work, transgender rights, same-sex marriage and organ sales.

Abortion, however, is called “murder” and promises to submit it to a referendum in Argentina, where it has been legal since 2020.

Milei surprised pollsters in August when he won Argentina’s open primary with about 30 percent of the vote. She has since led her two main rivals in the polls: Sergio Massa, Argentina’s center-left economy minister; and Patricia Bullrich, former right-wing security minister.

Milei has received almost widespread press coverage during the campaign, both for his radical economic proposals and his eccentric personality. He is a self-proclaimed teacher of tantric sex with five cloned mastiff dogs. His girlfriend is a professional impersonator one of his political archrivals. And his campaign manager and main political advisor is his sister.

Milei’s signature look—a leather jacket, a mop of untamed hair, and long sideburns—is designed to evoke the comic book character Wolverine, according to Lilia Lemoine, a professional cosplay artist who is Milei’s stylist and is running for Congress. . on her bill. Because, like Wolverine, she said, “he’s an antihero.”

The result is a cult following. At a recent event in Salta, a city in Argentina’s mountainous northwest, Milei rode in a van as thousands of voters gathered to get a closer look. His supporters wore messy wigs, handed out fake $100 bills with his face on them and displayed art of his dogs, four of which are named after conservative economists.

“Yes, everyone calls him crazy, for everything, but who better than a crazy person to move the country forward?” he asked. said María Luisa Mamani, 57, owner of a butcher shop. “Because the sane did nothing.”

Mr. Milei appeared briefly but did not speak. Instead, the event was largely a setting for social media content created by unpaid college-aged influencers who travel with and film Milei.

They have helped him build a huge online presence and an intense youth following. (The legal voting age in Argentina is 16 years old).

Luján López Villa, 20, a high school senior in the small town of Chicoana, said Milei had almost unanimous support among his classmates, largely because he was the “cool” candidate, despite warnings from teachers that their plans to dollarize the economy are dangerous.

“They want to change our minds,” he said. “We’re going to keep following it.”

It’s no surprise that Argentinians are eager for change. Decades of economic mismanagement, much of it in the hands of Massa’s current Peronist party, have plunged Argentina into a deep financial hole.

In April 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, 1 dollar could buy about 80 pesos; One day last week, $1 bought more than a thousand pesos. Those figures are based on an unofficial exchange rate that better reflects the market’s view of the peso, part of a byzantine system of currency controls that the government uses to try to keep U.S. dollars in the country.

Milei wants to scrap those rules as president, in part by switching to the dollar.

Both Milei and economists have said that dollarizing the economy will likely require tens of billions of dollars, but it is unclear where Argentina could get that investment from. The country is struggling to pay off a $44 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund.

Milei would also not have much support from Congress for dollarization, although he has said that he would submit the issue to a national referendum.

Emmanuel Álvarez Agis, Argentina’s former deputy economy minister during a leftist administration, said that if Milei could dollarize, it would largely solve inflation but would produce a host of other problems, including a decline in real wages, higher unemployment and a less flexibility to soften the effects of economic crises.

Milei has also promised pro-market small government reform, including promises to: reduce taxes; reduction regulations; privatize state industries; changing public education to a voucher-based system and public health care to an insurance-based system; reduce the number of federal ministries from 18 to eight; and cut federal spending by 15 percent of Argentina’s gross domestic product.

These deep spending cuts would require significant reductions in pensions, education and public safety, Álvarez Agis said. “I don’t think they’re seriously discussing the numbers,” he said.

After months of campaigning by the candidates, whether voters are willing to take a chance on Milei will be tested on Sunday. She could win the election outright with 45 percent of the vote, or 40 percent with a margin of at least 10 percentage points. If no candidate reaches any of those thresholds, the race will be held in a runoff on November 19 between the top two finishers.

Although Milei won the primaries, still claimed fraud, saying that his rivals stole their parties’ ballots at polling stations, preventing citizens from voting for him. Milei also said that her party ballots were found in the trash at a school. Her party did not provide any evidence.

Milei said his party had complained to election officials, but election officials disputed this.

“There was no complaint or challenge, nor was there systematic theft of votes,” Argentina’s electoral court said in a statement. “We are concerned that such statements are made without accompanying legal documents to investigate.”

Milei’s campaign said it had recruited 100,000 volunteers to monitor polling stations on Election Day. But in a television interview Thursday, Milei said he was still concerned about the stolen votes.

He claimed that alleged fraud in the primaries had cost him at least several percentage points of support. “Some say two and a half points, some say three and some say five,” he said. “Whatever the figure is, it can be decisive.”

Natalia Alcoba and Lucía Cholakian Herrera contributed with reports.

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