Saturday, March 2, 2024

Argentina’s populist candidate Javier Milei holds economic talk with IMF | Elections News

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Argentina’s right-wing populist presidential candidate Javier Milei has met with International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials to explain his economic proposals for the country, days after he became the surprise frontrunner for the October election.

During a virtual meeting that lasted a little over an hour on Friday, Milei and members of his economic team assured IMF officials they had no intention of stopping payments to the multilateral organisation nor defaulting on any of the country’s debts.

Officials in attendance included the head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department, Rodrigo Valdes.

“We are not going to default on either the IMF nor sovereign debt,” Milei told the IMF officials, according to a message posted on social media by Dario Epstein, one of the candidate’s key economic advisers.

Milei, an anti-establishment conservative, has campaigned on getting rid of the Central Bank and replacing the local currency with the dollar. On Sunday, he shocked the South American country’s political establishment by receiving the most votes in the national primaries.

Argentina, which has been suffering economic malaise for years and is reeling from a devastating drought that decimated the country’s cash crops, currently has a 30-month $44bn loan programme with the IMF.

At Friday’s meeting with IMF officials, Milei laid out the economic platform for his Liberty Advances party, including “a significant fiscal adjustment, more significant than the one demanded by the IMF”, according to a statement issued by the candidate’s campaign.

Milei and his team also mentioned their goals to open the economy, modernise labour laws, slash spending through deep reforms of the state and implement a “monetary reform that ends the Central Bank”.

Milei, 52, gained a rockstar-like following by raging against the “political caste” on television. He received 30 percent of the votes in the country’s national primaries, compared with 28 percent for the main opposition bloc and 27 percent for the current ruling coalition.

The results of the primary are seen as an indication of how citizens are likely to vote when they go to the polls in October.

But experts have said that support for Milei is not entirely ideologically driven but rather expresses disenchantment with politics as a whole. “They are not right-wing votes. They are votes that are free of politics,” Carlos Fara, a political analyst in Buenos Aires, told Al Jazeera earlier this week.

Valeria Brusco, a political scientist who studies Milei, said the economic crisis has led to “enormous frustration” amongst voters in Argentina.

“Yesterday, someone told me, ‘I feel disgusted by the usual politicians because what they have always done is what has brought us here,’” she told Al Jazeera.

Milei’s meeting with the IMF was not unique, either. Citing an anonymous official, The Associated Press news agency reported that IMF representatives also met with Patricia Bullrich, the presidential candidate for the main opposition coalition – United for Change – earlier in the week.

The discussions were part of “routine engagements with a broad spectrum of political and economic stakeholders”, the official said.

The government devalued the peso by around 20 percent and hiked its benchmark interest rate after Milei’s victory, which roiled the markets amid uncertainty about how the presidency would look under a politician who describes himself as an “anarcho-capitalist”.

The peso also depreciated sharply in the informal markets, leading to a surge in consumer prices in a country already experiencing a galloping annual inflation of more than 100 percent.

Sunday’s primary served to choose the political parties’ presidential candidates and confirm their participation in the October vote. Only three parties cleared the 1.5 percent threshold required to book a place in the general elections.

Milei and Bullrich will face off against Minister of Economy Sergio Massa. To win outright in October, a candidate has to secure at least 45 percent of the votes or 40 percent if they are 10 points ahead of their closest rival.

Otherwise, a third and final round of voting between the top two vote-getters would be held in November.

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