Argentines hopeful, nervous over 'leap into the void' with Milei

Argentina holds second round of presidential election

By Lucinda Elliott

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentines expressed a mixture of ecstasy and trepidation on Monday after libertarian outsider Javier Milei, pledging radical fixes to the economy, swept to power with an election win over Peronist government rival Sergio Massa.

Milei, who will take office on Dec. 10, marks a major direction change for Argentina, which is battling with inflation nearing 150%, capital controls that impede business, two-fifths of the population in poverty and a looming recession.

The wild-haired former TV pundit, who some have compared to former U.S. and Brazilian presidents Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, only entered politics recently, but was able to ride a wave of voter anger at the status quo.

"It's a great unknown," said Guillermo Toledo, a 51-year-old university professor in the capital Buenos Aires, who said he did not vote for Milei.

"It's like a leap into the void. God willing he surprises us... Let's hope that people haven't made a mistake, but hey, we have to respect what the majority decided."

Milei's win brought flag-waving crowds on Sunday night out to the Obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires, a traditional rallying point for supporters to cheer election or soccer wins.

Leandro Boses, 31, on his way to his job as a security guard in the city on Monday, said he had backed Milei and was delighted. His wages have been sapped by inflation and currency controls that have led to a range of parallel exchange rates.

"I am happy," he said. "My (monthly) salary is $300 at the blue (black market) rate so in fact yesterday when they were celebrating at the Obelisk I was working and I wanted to escape and go there."

Milei beat Peronist economy chief Massa by a sizeable margin, pulling in almost 56% of the ballot as he won over undecided voters angry at Argentina's highest inflation rate since 1991.

Claudio Bernal, 42, a pharmacist from the capital, said the economic situation meant he had struggled to secure supplies from laboratories, which was affecting sales. "I can't buy my own home. Milei gives me hope things can change," Bernal said.

"He has shown he knows about the economy. Let's just hope the other political parties help him to achieve those proposals," Bernal added.

Milei, nicknamed the "madman" or "El Loco", wants to drastically reduce the size of the state, measures that will require sizable legislative support. But his party only has a small number of congressional seats and faces a highly fragmented Congress, with no single bloc having a majority.

Actress Julia Eva Saggini, 32, feared the prospect of "an absolutely disorganized government," predicting there would be power struggles between Milei and his high-profile conservative backer, ex-President Mauricio Macri.

She said she hoped the opposition would quickly "start resisting" Milei's more radical ideas.

"I don't know who is going to govern," she said.

(Reporting by Lucinda Elliott and Candelaria Grimberg, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)