A centrist Minister of the Economy, Sergio Massa, and an ultraliberal "anti-system" who wants to "cut off" State leader Javier Milei will face each other in November in the second round of the presidential election in Argentina, in a duel between two antagonistic visions of the country.
Sergio Massa, 51, candidate of the government bloc (center-left) overcame the handicap of a suffering economy and record inflation at 138%, to come first in the first round on Sunday with 36.6% of the votes. , according to the Electoral Authority, with more than 97% of the votes counted.
He is ahead of the “anarcho-capitalist” economist – as he defines himself – Javier Milei, 53, who with 30%, confirms its breakthrough since its emergence on the political scene two years ago, but below what the polls predicted.
They will contest a second round on November 19, with a view to an investiture on December 10.
The candidate of the opposition bloc (center-right) Patricia Bullrich, a former Minister of Security protected by former liberal President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), is eliminated, with 23.8%.
Argentinians voted in a climate of uncertainty and concern, as rarely since the return of democracy 40 years ago, against a backdrop of chronic debt, inflation among the highest in the world, and of a currency in constant depreciation for two years.
– Change or leap into the void –
The words “fed up”, “anxiety”, “no magic formula”, recurred among the voters approached by AFP, reflecting a tension between a real desire for change and fear of a “jump into the void”. “.
“We need a change. This country is a disaster, really, between poverty, inflation, people are not doing well”, lamented Gabriela Paperini, 57, years old , near a polling station in the Palermo district.
Minister of the Economy Sergio Massa when voting in the Argentine presidential election, October 22, 2022 © Argentina's Economy Ministry – MAXIMILIANO VERNAZZA
Milei, a polemicist who emerged in 2021 from TV sets on the political scene, has since followed this common thread of “clearance” against the “parasitic caste”, according to him Peronists (center-left) and liberals who have alternated in power for twenty years.
Sunday evening, he hailed “the best election in the history of liberalism”, a “historic day because two-thirds voted for change”, in reference to his voters and those of Ms. Bullrich. And he extended his hand to the defeated candidate, so that “all those who want this change can work together to get our country back.”
His biting formulas, his electric style, spoke to an often young audience, without prospects. But his proposals, such as “cutting” the State and “dollarizing” the economy – to let the greenback supplant the peso – also sowed doubt, even worry.
“People have began to perceive a risk in Milei”, analyzes political scientist Raul Timerman. The theme of the 'chainsaw', which at first was funny, turned into something frightening (…) They said to themselves: 'This one is coming to destroy everything'.
At his campaign headquarters on Sunday evening, the disappointment was evident, after the hope aroused in the polls. “But I am sure that we will turn this around. Many of the votes that are not for him will come back to him in the second round,” said Nahuel Pasquale, 27.
Sergio Massa, a centrist from DNA, which had already run for president in 2015 against its current Peronist allies, took care in the campaign to distance itself from the executive — neither President Alberto Fernandez nor the former head of the 'State Cristina Kirchner, did not appear.
He strived to insist that “the worst of the crisis” is over, thanks to an upcoming export boom, and the end of a historic drought in 2022-23 which deprived Argentina, an agricultural giant, of 20 billion dollars in revenue.
– “Too much to lose” –
But above all in recent months it has increased its budgetary generosity: reduction in the number of taxable people, subsidies, VAT exemptions, to cushion the shock of inflation. “Electoral irresponsibility”, shouted his adversaries, while Argentina, with a pathological budget deficit, is struggling to repay a loan of 44 billion to the IMF.
Sunday evening, Mr. Massa promised if he is elected to convene “a government of national unity”, which would be a first in democratic Argentina, and launched an appeal to the radicals, the moderate wing of the opposition alliance “to all those who share our democratic values “.
His HQ was all hugs and songs, including the old Peronist anthem played by a brass band.
Javier Milei in the middle of a crowd of supporters as he arrives to vote in the presidential election, October 22, 2023 © AFP – Luis ROBAYO
“We knew we were going to create “The surprise. People are much smarter than we think when it comes to defending the homeland,” Angelo Laredo, a 55-year-old accountant, told AFP. “If it's not for today, it will be for November. Massa will be president.”
Nothing is over yet, for economist Benjamin Gedan, specialist in Argentina at think tank Wilson Center. Mr. Massa “remains the Minister of the Economy of a fundamentally unpopular government”. But there is in Argentina “a deep anxiety at the idea of drastically changing the role of the welfare state, many have too much to lose.”
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