Nearly 36 million Argentines are called to the polls on Sunday for the presidential election. Economy Minister Sergio Massa faces “anarcho-capitalist” and climate skeptic candidate Javier Milei. An election which takes place against a backdrop of a worsening economic crisis with hyperinflation and an increase in poverty.
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Tense as rarely in 40 years of democracy, Argentina votes on Sunday November 19 in a presidential election that could not be more undecided between the centrist Sergio Massa and the ultraliberal and “anti-system” Javier Milei.
Chronic three-digit inflation (143% over one year), poverty at 40% of the population despite a dense social safety net, pathological debt and a currency that is spiraling out of control paint the landscape for the second round. That despite a very slight advantage for Javier Milei, analysts predict “up to the vote”.
For Latin America’s third largest economy, it is difficult to find more antagonistic plans for the future.
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On one side, Sergio Massa, 51, accomplished politician, Minister of the Economy for 16 months of a Peronist executive (center left) from which he distanced himself. The candidate promises a “government of national unity” and a gradual economic recovery, preserving the welfare state, central to Argentine culture.
Facing him, Javier Milei, 53, an “anarcho-capitalist” economist as he describes himself, a television polemicist who entered politics two years ago. Defiant against the “parasitic caste”, he is determined to “cut off” the “enemy state” and to dollarize the economy. For him, climate change is a “cycle”, not the responsibility of humans.
Argentinians “on the verge of a nervous breakdown”
In the middle, the Argentines have gone “from crisis to crisis”, and they are “on the verge of a nervous breakdown”, summarizes Ana Iparraguirre, analyst at the opinion firm GBAO Strategies.
Exhausted by prices that climb from month to month, even from week to week, when wages drop, including the minimum wage at 146,000 pesos ($400). Rents are out of reach for many and mothers are resorting to barter, as after the traumatic economic crisis of 2001. Some 68% of young people aged 18 to 29 would emigrate if they could, according to a study by the University of Buenos Aires published at the beginning of the year.
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To decide between Sergio Massa (37% in the first round) and Javier Milei (30%), the undecided, around 10% according to estimates, hold the key.
Javier Milei won a “bronca” (angry) vote in the first round, but his rhetoric, his desire to dry up public spending in a country where 51% of Argentines receive social assistance, or his project to “deregulate the market firearms”, were also frightened. The “anti-system” candidate also modulated his speech between the two rounds with fewer appearances and less clear-cut speeches.
“What is at stake now is less support than rejection”
Therefore, “what is at stake now is less support than rejection” of the other, believes Gabriel Vommaro, political scientist at San Martin University.
The only certainty: whoever wins, there will be “rapid economic decisions that will hurt,” says Ana Iparraguirre.
The country is under pressure from the budgetary rebalancing objectives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to which Argentina is painfully repaying a colossal loan of 44 billion dollars granted in 2018.
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Adding to the ambient nervousness, Javier Milei’s camp has in recent weeks distilled insinuations of fraud, without a complaint being filed. Five people were arrested on Friday and Saturday for making threats against Sergio Massa or his family on social networks.
The first results of the vote should be known around 9 p.m. (000 GMT). The future president will be inaugurated on December 10.