Exhausted by inflation at 138%, Argentines are voting this Sunday, October 22 to appoint their next president. The vote is played out between anger, concern and skepticism. Javier Milei, an “anarcho-capitalist” economist, is opposed to Sergio Massa, the current Minister of the Economy, and Patricia Bullrich, a center-right candidate.
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They are exhausted by over-indebtedness and inflation. Between the temptation of an “anti-system” candidate and the certainty of a difficult tomorrow, Argentines vote on Sunday October 22 in the first round of the presidential election. Rarely since the return of democracy 40 years ago has an election been so uncertain in Argentina, where inflation is reaching levels among the highest in the world (138%).
Javier Milei, a 53-year-old “anarcho-capitalist” economist, who promises to “cut apart” the State, admires Donald Trump and denies any human responsibility for climate change, has turned the tables in barely two years in politics , to the point of finding themselves at the top of voting intentions in the first round. “Let them all go away, let there not be one left!” shouted Mr. Milei, the face of “bronca” (anger), at the closing meeting this week, faithful to the thread red “clears” its campaign against the “parasitic political caste” which has alternated in power for twenty years, between Peronists (center-left) or liberals.
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In this “three-thirds election”, as the pollsters called it, Mr. Milei received around 35% of voting intentions, ahead of Sergio Massa (around 30%), the Minister of the Economy and candidate of the government bloc. center-left, and Patricia Bullrich (26%) from the opposition alliance (center-right), a former Minister of Security under liberal President Maurico Macri (2015-2019). Behind them, two minor candidates Myriam Bregman (radical left) and Juan Schiaretti (centrist coalition) do not exceed the 4% mark.
Inflation is “unbearable, unbearable”
For Argentines, the uncertainty of the next day is a usual companion: 12.4% inflation in August, 12.7% in September, the highest monthly index in 32 years, labels that waltz from one week to the next . And a daily guerrilla war to thwart prices or to meet credit deadlines”/ “It’s unbearable, unbearable, the other day I bought a piece of meat, 1000 pesos (1 dollar), it’s was at 500 last month”, reacts Hector Sanchez, a 59-year-old waiter, who says he is tempted to vote for Milei “to put people to work, real work, instead of living on social programs”.
This is undoubtedly where the vote is at stake, somewhere between anger, concern and skepticism. Towards Ms. Bullrich, who promises “the most austere government in the history of Argentina”, and a severe audit of the social mille-feuille, in a country with 40% poor people, 10% more than there is eight years. Towards Mr. Massa, who assures that “the worst of the crisis” is over thanks to an upcoming export boom, but will not be able to avoid a turn of the screw on a pathologically over-subsidized economy, under the eye of the IMF to which Argentina struggling to repay a colossal loan of 44 billion dollars.
Or towards Mr. Milei, to the “dollarization” project, i.e. the replacement of the national currency by the American currency, decried in a manifesto by 170 economists from various sides as a “mirage” with perilous social and inflationary costs.
“People are tired, so fed up that they believe what Milei says,” laments Irene Landa, 70, forced to work because her pension of 130,000 pesos ($355) is in no way enough. “But for me, it would be like giving a gun to a monkey!” “The arrival of Milei has created a terrible sense of the unknown (…) There is a desire for change, but even if it is popular, the prospect of a drastic shift puts people on edge,” analyzes Benjamin Gedan, economist specializing in Argentina at the Wilson Center think tank.
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“The safest way to cover yourself is to buy dollars. That’s what I’ve done all my life,” confides Irene, who has seen the national currency, the peso, plummet in two years. 99 to 365 pesos to the dollar at the official rate, nearly 1,000 pesos at the parallel street rate, a real “barometer of anxiety” among Argentines, according to Mr. Gedan.
The day after the August primary, a sort of “rehearsal” for the presidential election which saw Mr. Milei’s breakthrough (30%), the peso, under pressure, was devalued by 20%. To be elected in the first round, a candidate must obtain at least 45% of the votes, or 40% of the votes but 10% ahead of the runner-up. Otherwise, a second round will take place on November 19. Some 35.8 million voters also renewed half of the deputies and a third of the Senate on Sunday. The first results are expected around 10:00 p.m. local time (01:00 GMT).