Luis Robayo Agence France-Presse The candidate Javier Milei, 53-year-old ultraliberal economist “anarcho-capitalist”, according to his own terms, who admires Donald Trump and denies man's responsibility for climate change, leads in the polls, garnering 35% of voting intentions.
Exhausted by over-indebtedness and inflation, Argentines vote on Sunday in an undecided first round of the presidential election, tossed between the temptation of an “anti-system” candidate and the certainty of a difficult tomorrow.
Rarely since the return of democracy 40 years ago has an election been so uncertain and stressful for Argentina, where inflation is reaching levels among the highest in the world (138%).
Javier Milei, a 53-year-old ultraliberal economist, an “anarcho-capitalist” in his own words, who promises to “cut up” the State, admires Donald Trump and denies man's responsibility for climate change, has overthrown the table in barely two years in politics, to the point of finding itself at the top of voting intentions in the first round.
On Sunday, wearing his favorite leather jacket, he was welcomed like a rockstar when he went to vote in Buenos Aires, a fervent crowd of a few hundred supporters crowding his car protected by a police cordon. “Que los cumplas feliz! [Happy birthday!],” the crowd chanted to the candidate, 53 years old that day.
“We are prepared to make the best government of history”, he declared after his vote, this polemicist emerged from TV sets into politics in 2021.
He has since followed a common thread of “disengagement”, against the “parasitic caste”, according to him, the Peronists (center-left) and liberals who have alternated in power for twenty years. And it resonated, particularly with a young audience.
In this “three-way scenario”, as pollsters have called it, Mr. Milei collects around 35% of voting intentions, ahead of Sergio Massa (around 30%), current Minister of the Economy and candidate of the government bloc of center-left, and Patricia Bullrich (26%) of the opposition alliance (center-right), a former security minister under liberal President Maurico Macri (2015-2019).
Behind them, two minor candidates, Myriam Bregman (radical left) and Juan Schiaretti (centrist coalition), do not exceed 4%.
“A leap into the void”< /h2>
Argentines have learned to live with the uncertainty of the next day: 12.4% inflation in August, 12.7% in September — the highest monthly index in 32 years — and labels that change from one week to the next. other. And a daily guerrilla war to thwart prices: purchases at the start of the month, juggling between various credits…
“We need a change. This country is a disaster, really, between poverty, inflation, people are not doing well,” lamented Gabriela Paperini, 57, on Sunday at the opening of a polling station in the Palermo district. She was preparing to vote in favor of Bullrich – but her daughter chose Milei – and said she felt “so much” uncertainty about the outcome of the vote.
“We are used to it, like society, to vote for people who, afterwards, disappoint us, do the opposite of what they said, or do their business”, lamented Boris Moran, a 34-year-old lawyer, also attracted by the “different option” Milei , even if some see him as “a leap into the void”.
“Fed up”, “anxiety”, “no magic change”, came up regularly on Sunday in the words of voters interviewed by AFP, suggesting that the vote is being played out there, somewhere between anger, worry and skepticism.
Towards Ms. Bullrich, who promises “the most austere government in the history of Argentina”, and a severe cleansing of the social millefeuille, in a country with 40% poor, 10% more than eight years ago.
Towards Mr. Massa, who assures that “the worst of the crisis” is over thanks to an upcoming boomexporter. But we will not be able to avoid a turn of the screw on a pathologically oversubsidized economy, under the eye of the IMF, to which Argentina is struggling to repay a colossal loan of 44 billion dollars.
Or towards Mr. Milei, to the plan to “dollarize” the economy to see the greenback replace the peso. Project decried in a manifesto by 170 economists from various sides as a “mirage” with perilous social and inflationary costs.
“Barometer of anxiety”
“Milei’s arrival brought with it a terrible sense of the unknown […]. There is a desire for change, but even if it is popular, the prospect of a radical shift puts people on edge,” analyzes Benjamin Gedan, economist specializing in Argentina at the Wilson Center think tank.
The national currency, the peso, has plummeted in two years from 99 to 365 pesos per dollar at the official rate — and nearly 1,000 pesos at the parallel street rate, a veritable “barometer of anxiety” for Argentines , according to Mr. Gedan.
They do not forget that the day after the August primary, a “rehearsal” for the presidential election which saw the breakthrough of Mr. Milei (30%), the peso, under pressure, had been devalued by 20%.
To be elected in the first round, a candidate must obtain at least 45% of the votes, or 40% but with a 10% lead over the second .
Some 35.8 million voters also renew half of the deputies, and a third of the Senate, on Sunday.
The first results are expected around 10 p.m. local time (9 p.m. Montreal time).