BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Populist Javier Milei resoundingly won Argentina's presidential election Sunday following a fiercely polarized campaign in which he promised a dramatic shake-up to the state to deal with soaring inflation and rising poverty.
With 99.4% of votes tallied in Sunday's presidential runoff, Milei had 55.7% and Economy Minister Sergio Massa 44.3%, according to Argentina's electoral authority. It is the widest victory margin in a presidential race since Argentina's return to democracy in 1983.
In the streets of Buenos Aires, drivers honked their horns and many took to the streets to celebrate in several neighborhoods. Outside Milei’s party headquarters, a hotel in downtown Buenos Aires, supporters were euphoric.
In his victory speech, the self-described anarcho-capitalist who has been compared to former U.S. President Donald Trump said the “reconstruction of Argentina begins today.”
“Argentina’s situation is critical. The changes our country needs are drastic. There is no room for gradualism, no room for lukewarm measures,” Milei told supporters who chanted “liberty, liberty,” and “let them all leave” in a reference to the country's political class.
Massa of the ruling Peronist party had already conceded defeat, saying Argentines “chose another path.”
“Starting tomorrow ... guaranteeing the political, social and economic functions is the responsibility of the new president. I hope he does,” Massa said.
With a Milei victory, the country will shift rightward and a freshman lawmaker who got his start as a television talking head blasting what he called the “political caste” will assume the presidency.
Inflation has soared above 140% and poverty has worsened while Massa has held his post. Milei has proposed to slash the size of the state and rein in inflation, while the government minister he was running against warned people about the negative impacts of such policies.
“There were lot of voters that weren’t convinced to vote Milei, who would vote no or blank. But come the day of the vote, they voted for Milei because they’re all pissed off,” Andrei Roman, CEO of Brazil-based pollster Atlas Intel, said by phone. “Everyone talked about the fear of Milei winning. I think this was a fear of Massa winning and economy continuing the way it is, inflation and all that.”
Milei accused Massa and his allies of running a “campaign of fear” and he walked back some of his most controversial proposals, such as loosening gun control. In his final campaign ad, Milei looks at the camera and assures voters he has no plans to privatize education or health care.
Milei’s message resonated widely with Argentines angered by their struggle to make ends meet, particularly young men.
“Money covers less and less each day. I’m a qualified individual, and my salary isn’t enough for anything,” Esteban Medina, a 26-year-old physical therapist from Ezeiza, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a Milei rally earlier this week.
Another of Milei's supporters is María Gabriela Gaviola, a 63-year-old entrepreneur doing everything she can to avoid shuttering her company, which manufactures veterinary products, amid surging prices for materials. And the government hasn't helped, including Massa who has held his ministerial post for over a year.
“The productive sector of this country isn't considered. How long can a country that doesn’t produce be OK?" said Gaviola, who has taken on two side jobs to keep her company afloat. “Truth is, I don’t know Milei. I’ve heard him a bit. I don’t know him, but the one who I already know doesn’t help me. I prefer to try something new.”
Most pre-election polls, which have been notoriously wrong at every step of this year’s campaign, showed a statistical tie between the two candidates or Milei slightly ahead.