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Argentina At A Crossroads: Rise Of A Populist Maverick In Crucial Presidential Election

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ARGENTINA

(CTN NEWS) – Argentina stands at a crossroads as it heads toward a crucial presidential election, with a foul-mouthed, far-right populist politician at the forefront of the political landscape.

Javier Milei, a controversial figure described by some as a blend of Boris Johnson’s charisma and the disconcerting Chucky doll’s unpredictability, has captured the nation’s attention.

This election takes place against a backdrop of deep-rooted anti-establishment sentiments and severe economic turmoil in South America’s second-largest economy.

Election-eve polls indicate that Milei, a charismatic and wild-haired political outsider, could potentially secure a first-round victory, although a November runoff remains a likely scenario.

His unorthodox journey into politics began after he gained fame for his television appearances, where he expounded on topics ranging from monetary policy to sex.

At his final campaign event in Buenos Aires, the 53-year-old “anarcho-capitalist” addressed a massive crowd in a 15,000-capacity stadium, surrounded by banners proclaiming him as “The Only Solution” to Argentina’s economic troubles.

Milei declared passionately, “Whatever it takes, we have to win on Sunday. It’s going to be the first round! Round one!”

He even likened this political endeavor to a World Cup victory, suggesting that his ideas of freedom will lead to a victorious transformation for the nation.

Milei has gathered a strong following through his political coalition, “La Libertad Avanza” (Freedom Advances), which is dedicated to advancing libertarian principles.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Milei’s main rival, Sergio Massa, a Peronist politician and the current finance minister, sought support from factory workers in suburban Buenos Aires.

Despite his government overseeing a severe economic slump and rising poverty, Massa aimed to counter Milei’s apocalyptic portrayals of Argentina.

He stated, “It makes me really angry when I hear those who want to govern Argentina say we are a terrible country. We’re a wonderful country.”

The third prominent candidate, Patricia Bullrich, a conservative and former security minister, labeled Milei’s ideas as “bad and dangerous.”

His proposals include abolishing the central bank, loosening gun control laws, and even legalizing the sale of human organs.

Bullrich urged parents to discourage their children from supporting Milei, who has garnered a fervent following among disillusioned young Argentinians.

Milei, a freewheeling TV personality who transitioned into politics in 2021 after being elected to Congress, has drawn comparisons to former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Milei himself has acknowledged an alignment with global leaders who oppose socialism, and he minimizes Trump’s role in the January 6 Capitol riots.

The election in Argentina has become a highly charged and contentious affair, with Milei’s rise indicative of a broader global trend of unconventional and polarizing political figures reshaping the political landscape.

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Further comparisons emerge as some liken Javier Milei to Brazil’s former far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro has openly endorsed Milei’s push for “real change” and extended his support to the Argentinian politician.

Bolsonaro’s congressman son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, is set to travel to Buenos Aires for Sunday’s vote.

Additionally, Chile’s ultra-conservative former presidential candidate, who is also a member of the European parliament for Spain’s far-right party Vox, will be present.

The striking similarities between Milei’s campaign and Bolsonaro’s rise to power in Brazil are unsurprising, as they share key personnel, including Milei’s social media chief, Fernando Cerimedo, who played a role in Bolsonaro’s successful 2018 campaign.

Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil was marked by pledges to champion Brazil’s “cidadãos de bem” (upstanding citizens), while Milei promises to govern for all “argentinos de bien” in Argentina.

Both leaders employ highly orchestrated rallies, giving an impression of widespread grassroots support.

Bolsonaro used similar tactics, frequently arriving at small-town airports filled with enthusiastic supporters.

Both Milei and Bolsonaro present themselves as anti-communist crusaders on divine missions to rescue their countries from leftist influences, often making unfounded claims about electoral fraud.

On Thursday, Milei alleged that, according to his experts, between 2.5% and 5% of votes for his party were not counted in August’s primary, which serves as a dress rehearsal for the election, and which he won.

These allegations echo Bolsonaro’s previous attacks on Brazil’s voting system, which culminated in the January 8, 2023, insurrection in Brasília.

This resonance between the two leaders reflects a broader trend of populist, right-wing movements in the region, challenging the status quo and shaping the political landscape in South America.

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In a recent interview on Crónica TV, Javier Milei was asked whether he expected fraud during the upcoming election, to which he responded with a straightforward “Yes, obviously.”

This outlook of anticipated fraud has raised concerns, with the potential of an Argentinian leader seen as a combination of Bolsonaro and Trump causing unease among progressive voters and even Pope Francis, who has faced Milei’s verbal criticism, labeling him a “lefty son of a bitch.”

Father José María “Pepe” Di Paola, a priest in Buenos Aires closely associated with the Pope, expressed his astonishment at Milei’s unconventional political style.

Working in some of the most deprived shantytowns in Buenos Aires, Di Paola voiced his concerns over Milei’s promises to cut social spending and his criticism of the concept of social justice, even comparing him unfavorably to Bolsonaro.

Pope Francis, without naming Milei directly, issued a veiled warning about the dangers of charismatic populists, referring to them as “pied piper of Hamelin”-style figures and “messianic clowns.”

He emphasized that “there is only one Messiah.”

Experts anticipate that a Milei victory could lead to a turbulent period, with concerns about governability, social unrest, and political chaos.

Benjamin Gedan, the director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America Program, highlighted the active and engaged Argentine population, suggesting that abrupt austerity measures proposed by Milei could provoke significant pushback.

Argentina, as a G20 economy, would be rolling the dice by embracing radical policy ideas.

The value of Argentina’s peso has experienced a sharp decline against the dollar in recent weeks, which some experts attribute to Milei’s vocal criticism of the currency he aims to replace.

Even allies of Milei acknowledge that his triumph would bring about upheaval, and they believe that the choice lies in who can manage the chaos more effectively.

The upcoming election has heightened tensions and political engagement in Argentina, with both supporters and opponents of Milei closely watching the situation unfold.

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