Argentina's shocking far-right presidential candidate has smashed a pinata depicting the country's central bank in wild scenes on live television.
Javier Milei – a fervent political maverick who rocked the country after a surprise leap to the top of the race ahead of the presidential election – is a vocal critic of the central bank, which he has repeatedly vowed to “blow up” if he wins October.
With Mr. Milei on course to become the next leader of the beleaguered South American nation, a resurfaced clip from an appearance in 2018 went viral again on social media.
The presenters of the TV show Cuatro Caras Bonitas handed Mr. Milei a pinata des central bank as a birthday present – which he then smashed into pieces with a large stick.
taken by surprise
The presidential election is still two months away, but an unusual nationwide system of party primaries that took place on Sunday gave Mr Milei the most votes – a key indicator for the future.
Ahead of Sunday's vote, opinion polls and political analysts expected no real challenge for the traditional parties from the anti-establishment maverick, who garnered just over 30 percent of the vote, slightly more than its two main rivals.
“Nobody could have imagined such a result for Milei. He was first in areas where he has no structure or support,” said Juan Negri, a political scientist at Torcuato di Tella University.
“An elephant passed us and we didn't see it,” he wrote Clarin daily.
The 52-year-old messy-haired economist, who was elected to Parliament in 2021, has garnered public attention with his radical ideas, appearing regularly on TV and having a strong presence on social media.
Political analyst Gabriel Puricelli said Mr Milei had managed to contain growing discontent in the country and “built an electorate from nothing”.
‘Nothing to lose'
When asked why they support Mr. Milei, his supporters, young and old, invariably express a desire for something new in a country beset by economic misery.
“Ten years of stagnation and five years of high inflation have fueled the skepticism of a large part of the population,” Mr Puricelli said.
Argentina's political scene has been dominated for decades by Peronism, which relies heavily on state intervention, subsidies and social programs, with brief spells of centre-right party rule.
The country faces annual inflation of 115 percent and the poverty rate is 40 percent.
With the peso under constant threat, Argentines' only hope of saving for the future is to buy dollars immediately – on the informal market due to tight currency controls.
“Our parents, our grandparents, voted for Peronism 20 or 30 years ago, but the country stayed the same,” said 20-year-old college student Carolina Carabajal.
Political scientist Carlos Fara said there is a feeling of “nothing to lose, let's try something new because the others failed”.
Despite being alternately described as libertarian, far-right or anti-establishment, Mr Milei's political views are elusive.
He is ultra-liberal when it comes to the economy, rejects the minimum wage and wants “tougher austerity measures than those required by the International Monetary Fund,” which Argentina owes $44 billion.
He describes himself as an “anarcho-capitalist” and says he is “above all pro-freedom”.
He has proposed dollarizing the economy, “dynamizing the central bank” and abolishing the ministries of education, health and public works, which he wants to replace with private investment.
He is conservative on some social issues and wants to ban abortions and abolish sex education in schools.
“A man with dozens of faces,” wrote journalist Juan Gonzalez in an unauthorized biography of Mr. Milei.
Unmarried and childless, he lives alone with four Great Danes named after liberal economists. His sister Karina is his right hand man.
With Mr. Milei now a serious contender, the October 22 presidential election is wide open with three main candidates.
He is up against former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich on the right and Economy Minister Sergio Massa from the ruling centre-left coalition, who narrowly finished second and third in the primaries.
None of them have an easy journey ahead of them.
Mr Milei and Ms Bullrich will battle for similar voters on the right, while Mr Massa will try to hold on to moderate voters as he grapples with bad economic news ahead of the vote.