A 51-year-old economist, ultra-liberal and provocative, Javier Milei is emerging as an electoral phenomenon in Buenos Aires City where, with his anti-politician discourse, he is challenging the ruling centre-left Frente de Todos coalition for second place in Sunday's midterm elections.
"I didn't come here to lead lambs, I came to wake up lions," Milei shouts from a stage in a plaza in the capital, as supporters applaud him enthusiastically.
"Viva la libertad, carajo!" he shouts again, blaming Argentina's ills on "the political caste" – he does not distinguish between right and left, government and opposition.
Milei is campaigning, but his electoral event consists of an economics "class" for a mostly young, male audience who are alienated by politics, yet flattered by this intellectual format in which books are raffled off at the end of the campaign rally.
"He speaks sincerely, he doesn't beat around the bush," says Daniel Quiroz, an electromechanics student from the poorer south of Buenos Aires who will be voting in his first election.
In the plaza, a line forms of people queuing to join Avanza Libertad, Milei’s libertarian party which came third in September's PASTO primary elections in the capital with 13.6 percent of the vote.
"Today, in Argentina, there is a fairly broad socialism created by the political caste. We call everything that has been there for a long time and doesn’t want to leave power the caste," says Matías Miró, a 40-year-old libertarian activist.
According to the polls, Milei’s electoral strength is on the rise, worrying some in the centre-right Juntos coalition, which has governed in the capital since 2007.
"The ideas that Milei expresses are the same ones I have always expressed," former president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) recently declared.
With his curious and chaotic head of hair, which he says is a result of him not combing his hair for years, Milei is a controversial character.
He has published several books and, at the same time, has been accused of plagiarising entire paragraphs. He has had an online radio programme, ‘Demoliendo mitos’ (“Demolishing myths”). Ramiro Marra, his running-mate for the lower house Chamber of Deputies, is a YouTube star running a channel where he teaches how to invest in bitcoins.
"To enter into politics does not mean abandoning the cultural battle. We are going to continue fighting the cultural battle, but now from the inside as well," Milei told AFP in an interview, explaining his decision to join a Congress he considers is riddled with thieves.
"We will never create new taxes, we will never go against life, we will never go against freedom and we will never go against property. We are going to promote bills that will remove this oppression of the state over the people," promises this man who likes to quote the glories of the 19th century, such as Juan Bautista Alberdi, the inspirer of the Constitution who famously declared: "He who does not believe in freedom as a source of wealth neither deserves to be free nor knows how to be rich."
On the international scene, he is not uncomfortable with comparisons to former US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.
Across social classes
Milei's followers are mostly men, ahed between the ages of 18 and 40, but they come from all social classes, according to political scientist Diego Reynoso of the University of San Andrés.
"He clearly positions himself on the right, both economically – less state, more market – and on other values, for example his opposition to abortion," which has been legal in Argentina since 2020, says the political scientist.
Milei’s preaching against the "political caste," which he blames for Argentina's economic, social and political crisis, places him "outside the political system,” says Reynoso. “It allows him to utilise a clearly anti-establishment discourse and from there he capitalises a lot."
The 51-year-old even has support in the most disadvantaged areas of the capital, where his vote share was slightly higher than average.
"There is an explanation. In those neighbourhoods there are people in formal employment who, despite their efforts, cannot leave and complain about the discounts they receive. One would think that these sectors would ask for more fiscal and tax pressure, but this is not the case," observes the analyst.