Long-term care or shock therapy for a never-ending economic crisis? Argentina, tense as rarely in 40 years of democracy, votes on Sunday in a presidential election that could not be more undecided, between the centrist Sergio Massa and the ultra-liberal 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 unraveling, paint the landscape for the second round . That despite a very slight advantage in Milei, analysts predict “up to the vote”.
For the third largest economy in Latin America, it is difficult to find more antagonistic plans for the future.
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. And which promises a “government of national unity” and a gradual economic recovery, preserving the welfare state, central to Argentine culture.
Campaign posters of Sergio Massa, the Argentine Minister of Economy candidate for the country's presidency, in Buenos Aires, November 15, 2023 © AFP – Juan MABROMATA
In front of him, Javier Milei, 53 years old, “anarcho-capitalist” economist as he describes himself, TV 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 man.
Between? Argentinians going “from crisis to crisis, and 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 fall, including the minimum wage at 146,000 pesos (400 dollars).
Rents are out of reach for many and mothers are resorting to barter, as after the traumatic economic crisis of 2001.
68% of young people aged 18 to 29 would emigrate if they could, according to a study by the University of Buenos Aires earlier this year.
– “On the verge of exploding”
“What exists today doesn't work for me, so perhaps this change would be good”, says Matias Esoukourian, a 19-year-old student attracted by Milei and his “passion”, failing “to political experience.”
Inflation in Argentina © AFP – Gustavo IZUS, Gabriela VAZ
“The economy is on the verge of exploding, that's what we see. But education and public health worry me a lot,” recognizes Maximo Alberti, an undecided high school student who is voting for the first time at 17. “Neither one satisfies me. One (Massa) brought problems, but the other (Milei) brings very explosive ideas.”
To decide between Massa (37% in the first round) and Milei (30%), the undecided, around 10% according to estimates, hold the key.
Milei attracted a “bronca” vote in the first round ( of anger), 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 firearms market”, have also frightened.
– “Less adherence than rejection” –
Also, the “anti-system” candidate modulated his speech between the two rounds. Fewer appearances, less clear-cut, and a message: “Vote without fear, because fear paralyzes and benefits the status quo.”
Therefore, “what matters now is less support than support. rejection” of the other, believes Gabriel Vommaro, political scientist at San Martin University.
“It is not love that unites us, but fear,” summarizes political scientist Belen Amadeo, quoting the famous Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.
A supporter of presidential candidate Javier Milei, wearing a Zorro costume, shouts slogans in support of the ultraliberal economist during a campaign rally in Ezeiza, Buenos Aires province , November 15, 2023 © AFP – Luis ROBAYO
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.
Adding to the ambient nervousness, the Milei camp has distilled insinuations of fraud in recent weeks, without however that a complaint be filed. And five people were arrested on Friday and Saturday for making threats against Mr. Massa or his family on social networks.
“Beware of the very bad examples of (Donald) Trump and (Jair) Bolsonaro ” who promoted such messages, or did not accept the results, Massa warned.
Nearly 36 million Argentines are called to vote. The first results should be known around 9:00 p.m. (00:00 GMT). The future president will be inaugurated on December 10.
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