Former TV pundit Javier Milei – nicknamed “the crazy” or “the madman” by his followers – has stunned political experts by becoming the new president of Argentina.
The 53-year-old right-wing populist – also known as a fan of Al Capone – won 56% of the vote to complete a journey which started in 2020 when he entered politics and promised to “blow up” the system.
At the time, he was a TV talking head who was arguing against government spending and who seemed a long way from staging a serious bid to become leader of South America’s second-largest economy.
But against a backdrop of inflation approaching 150%, rising poverty and a sliding currency, Mr Milei and his Liberty Advances coalition saw their support grow to make him a serious political contender.
This was despite heavily criticising Argentine-born Pope Francis as an “imbecile”, mocking the nation’s late football icon Diego Maradona and even praising former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, little loved in Argentina for her role in the 1982 Falklands War.
His expletive-ridden tirades have targeted his political rivals, contributing to his rise in popularity.
Also known as “the wig” due to his unruly mop of hair, he refers to himself as “the lion”, believes sex education is a plot to destroy the family, and has raised the possibility of people being allowed to sell their own vital organs.
Mr Milei’s aggressive and theatrical style – from superhero costumes to wielding a chainsaw to illustrate his plans to cut down the size of the state – has led some to compare him to Donald Trump in the US or Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.
“If Javier combed his hair neatly, if Javier didn’t get angry, would people ever have invited him to speak?” said Diana Mondino, an economist on Mr Milei’s team.
The economist and son of a passenger transport businessman and a homemaker, he appeared at dozens of campaign events with the chainsaw, promising policies including the closing down of the nation’s central bank, which he blames for playing a big role in the high inflation figures.
Mr Milei, who is unmarried but started a relationship in July with actress and artist Fatima Florez, suggested earlier this year his 51-year-old sister Karina could be his “first lady” as she ran his election campaign.
His other close companion was his mastiff dog Conan, whom he paid $50,000 (£40,000) to clone after his death in 2017. He now has at least four other clones, all named after economists.
Mr Milei favours loose gun laws and tighter controls on abortion, opposes feminist and climate change policies, and wants to replace the peso currency with the US dollar – and is a fan of crime boss Al Capone for what he claims are free-market credentials.
But despite stirring up excitement among voters, many commentators believe Mr Milei is a risky gamble given the high inflation, rising state debts and a looming recession.
Juan Gonzalez, a journalist and author of a biography on the new leader, admitted: “He is an unstable leader for an unstable country.”