A far-right libertarian candidate won Argentina’s open primary presidential election on Sunday, a surprising showing for a politician who wants to use the US dollar as Argentina’s official currency and welcomes comparisons to Donald Trump.
Javier Milei, 52, a congressman, economist and former television personality, got 30 percent of the vote with 96 percent of the ballots counted, making him the front-runner for the presidency in the fall general election.
Polls suggested that Mr. Milei is at around 20 percent, and political analysts predict that his radical policy proposals — including abolishing the country’s central bank — will prevent him from attracting more voters.
But Sunday’s vote made it clear that Mr. Milei now has a clear shot at leading Argentina, a South American country of 46 million with some of the world’s largest oil, gas and lithium reserves.
“I think these results are surprising even to him,” said Pablo Touzon, an Argentine political consultant. “Until now, he was a protest candidate.”
Argentina’s general election in October, which could go to a November runoff, will be a new test of the strength of the far right around the world. Although hard-right forces have gained new influence in several powerful countries in recent years, including the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and Finland, they have also suffered some losses, including Spain and Brazil.
Mr. Milei has pitched himself as the radical change Argentina’s faltering economy needs, and he could be a shock to the system if elected. In addition to his ideas about money and the central bank, he strongly proposed lowering taxes and reducing public spending, including charging people to use the public health care system; closure or privatization of all state-owned enterprises; and abolishing the ministries of health, education and environment.
Sergio Massa, Argentina’s center-left finance minister, came second in the primary, with 21 percent of the vote. Patricia Bullrich, a conservative former security minister, finished in third place, with 17 percent.
The general election will take place on Oct. 22, but it appears likely that the race will be decided in a runoff vote on Nov. 19. Sunday’s results showed that Argentina’s three separate coalitions had similar levels of support, making it unlikely that any candidate would exceed the 50-percent threshold needed to win outright in the first round .
Candidates of the center-right coalition received a combined 28 percent of the vote on Sunday, while the center-left coalition received 27 percent — both slightly less than Mr. Milei’s total.
The current center-left party has held power in Argentina for 16 of the past 20 years and is largely controlled by former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
“We will not only end Kirchnerism, but we will also end the useless, parasitic, criminal political caste that is sinking this country,” Mr. Milei to supporters in a speech on Sunday night. He then thanked his sister, who runs his campaign, and his five Mastiff dogs, each named after a conservative economist.
Argentina, which has been through economic crises for decades, is in the midst of one of its worst. The value of Argentina’s peso has plummeted, annual inflation has exceeded 115 percent, nearly 40 percent of the population is in poverty and the country is struggling to repay its $44 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund.
Mr. Milei said his economic policies represented an austerity package that went beyond what the IMF was asking Argentina to do.
He could also have a profound effect on other parts of Argentine society. He and his running mate, a lawyer who defended the country’s previous military dictatorship, have proposed that they loosen gun laws, reverse recent policies that allow abortion and even allow the sale of human organs, an example of commerce that Mr. Milei said government. no business restrictions.
But implementing such changes will lead to a major challenge. Sunday’s results suggested that Mr. Milei, if elected, would have limited direct support in Congress. His party, called Liberty Advances, said it would control just 8 of the 72 seats in the Senate and 35 of the 500 seats in the House, according to results for its other candidates.
Mr. Touzon said Mr. Milei would have less institutional support than far-right candidates swept into office elsewhere in recent years, including Mr. Trump and former President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. “Bolsonaro leaned on the army. Trump had the Republican Party. Milei didn’t,” he said.
He added that the economic plan of Mr. Milei, while radical, lacks details and is often modified. “His dollarization plan was changed 50 times,” Mr. Touzon said. “Now, he doesn’t have a team to manage in Argentina.”
But Mr. Milei has proven to be a savvy politician in the internet age, with a trademark scowl and head of wild hair that has given her a larger-than-life persona and made her an easy subject of internet memes, such as Mr. . Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro.
In a public video posted online before the vote, Mr. Bolsonaro is Mr. Milei and said they were political kindred spirits. “We have a lot in common,” he said, citing what he called support for private property, freedom of expression, free markets and the right to self-defense.
And unlike the supporters of Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro, said Argentines who voted for Mr. Milei on Sunday that they liked him because he was a political outsider who would shake up a broken system and put it this way.
“Argentinians have finally woken up,” said Rebeca Di Iorio, 44, an administrative worker celebrating at a street party on the night of Mr. Miley in Buenos Aires. “Argentina needs that. Change is needed.”
Santiago Manoukian, research chief of Ecolatina, an Argentine economic consulting firm, said that among the different scenarios for the main results mapped out by analysts, the success of Mr. Milei was not expected.
Now Mr. Manoukian says he has to rethink his election predictions, because Mr. Manoukian has a clear chance. Milei to reach the second round, which could be a tossup.
“He was not seen as a competitive candidate for a runoff,” Mr. Manoukian said. “Now something strange is happening.”