An eccentric economist who loves Bitcoin, cloned his dog, and wants to abolish the central bank won Argentina’s open presidential primary on Sunday, ahead of the two traditional power blocs. Javier Milei is now seen as a front-runner in the October general election.
“Today we took the first step toward the reconstruction of Argentina,” Milei said at his party headquarters upon hearing the results. “A different Argentina is impossible with the same people as always.” He also vowed to “end the useless, parasitic, criminal political caste that is sinking this country.”
Argentina has an open, blanket and public primary, known as “jungle primary” in the US. As the votes were counted on Sunday evening Milei came in first with 30% of all votes cast. The ruling Peronist ‘Union for the Homeland’ (UP) coalition came in third with 27% of the vote, while the conservative opposition bloc ‘Together for Change’ received 28%.
The Peronists have been in power for 16 of the past 20 years, as Argentina struggled with inflation and a series of economic problems. Former president and incumbent Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, seen as the gray eminence in the bloc, was convicted on corruption charges last December.
Milei, 52, campaigned on ending “Kirchnerism.” He was quickly dubbed “far-right” by major English-language outlets such as the New York Times, AP and Reuters, for his libertarian political platform. Among his policy proposals are shuttering Argentina’s central bank and adopting the US dollar as legal tender; drastically lowering taxes and public spending, privatizing or closing all state-owned enterprises, and abolishing the ministries of health, education and environment.
The libertarian politician has also been skeptical of climate change, considers sex education an anti-family plot, and wants to legalize firearm ownership and sale of human organs, according to AP.
One of his endorsements came from former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who said they had “a lot of things in common,” naming their support for private property, free speech, free market and the right to self-defense.
Milei is on the record supporting cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum as well. In a TV interview in January, he called them “the natural reaction against the Central Bank scammers” and a return to tradition of making “money private again.”
His eccentricities seem to have only endeared him to the Argentine electorate. In his victory speech, Milei thanked his sister for running his campaign, and made a special mention of his five dogs. Four of the English Mastiffs, cloned in the US, were named after his favorite libertarian economists: Murray (Rothbard), Milton (Friedman), Robert and Lucas.
While he is the front-runner in the general election, scheduled for October 22, it is unlikely Milei will get 50% of the votes required, and may advance to the November 19 runoff. Primary results suggest his party, Liberty Advances, would get just eight seats in the 72-member Senate and 35 in the 257-seat House, leaving him with little legislative support should he actually win.
Argentina’s government responded to the primary results by devaluing the peso by 20% on Monday morning. The country registered annual inflation of 114% last month, almost 40% of its 46 million residents live in poverty, and Buenos Aires is struggling to repay its $44 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund.