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Populism on the threshold of an Argentina in crisis

Juan Mabromata Agence France-Presse Posters representing the various Argentine political candidates, including the populist Javier Milei and the Peronist Sergio Massa, in Buenos Aires, Wednesday

A few days before the second round of the presidential election in Argentina, scheduled for November 19, voters ultimately have only two small reasons to celebrate, believes Argentine political columnist Carlos Pagni.

The first is that the populist Javier Milei, who came out of nowhere to come second in the first round of voting last October, “did not go crazy” in front of the cameras on Sunday evening, during the last televised debate between the two candidates remaining in the race, he writes in the pages of the Argentine daily La Nación.

And the second ? Sergio Massa, current Minister of the Economy, who faces him on the ballot, will benefit from the end of the campaign playing out while monthly inflation experienced a lesser increase in October than in previous months, at 8 .3%, continues the specialist in local politics. Annualized inflation rose to 142.7% last month, one of the highest rates in the world. And, smiling, the analyst is saddened by a political, economic and social climate which now confronts voters with a paradoxical decision.

Uncertainty dominates the last miles of the presidential race in Argentina, where the final polls conducted at the beginning of the month place Javier Milei, leader of the movement La libertad avanza (“Freedom advances”), neck and neck with the Peronist Sergio Massa, current member of the government.

The most recent national survey, conducted during the first week of November by the Latin American Strategic Center for Geopolitics, reveals a lead of barely 1.4 points for Sergio Massa over the outsider Javier Milei, and above all announces an unpredictable final result. It lies in the margin of error as in the share of the blank vote (between 6.1 and 2.5%, according to polls) or that of the undecided, who are still between 6 and 2% questioning their choice.

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This text is published via our Perspectives section.

“Everything is possible, for one or the other,” said political scientist Eugenia Mitchelstein, director of the Department of Social Sciences at the University of San Andrés, in an interview this week with Le Devoirin Buenos Aires. “It is possible that the high inflation rate, as well as a poverty level that reaches 40% in Argentina, encourages people to favor Milei’s candidacy. But at the same time, despite the current economic crisis, the outgoing Minister of the Economy still has a chance of winning the second round. And that’s something rather atypical. »

Atypical ? Argentina's presidential campaign was to say the least, after having brought out, and now placed him on the threshold of power, the populist Javier Milei, a self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist and libertarian who does not hide his admiration for the ex- American and Brazilian presidents Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. He copies the approach, the tone, the ideological frameworks, without even fear of accentuating the worst. In 2019, the man, an economist with “lion” hair, appeared disguised as “General AnCap”, a character taken from his imagination, combining his inclinations for anarchy and his defense of capitalism, to attack the “political caste”, which would be the basis of all the ills that have afflicted the country for years, according to him.

Subscriber to media rants, Milei has gone in just a few years from a current affairs commentator, with verve and vulgarity, to a new political voice determined to cut public spending with great blows of a chainsaw – an object that he displays actually during his political rallies to support his image. He promises to privatize the pension system, to entrust private companies with the negotiation of international trade agreements and to close the central bank, which regularly broadcasts exorbitant inflation figures which affect the daily lives of millions of Argentines. For 2023, this inflation should reach 185%, according to the upward estimate delivered Monday by the institution.

Dollar and amnesia


During the leaders' debate on Sunday, the populist reiterated his intention to “dollarize” Argentina's economy by abandoning the peso in favor of the American dollar, despite the fiasco that such a measure had produced at the time. end of the last century. A past made up of hyperinflation, countries in default and social crisis that the “presentism” carried by social networks and the fiery speeches of the young 52-year-old politician have managed to erase from the collective memory in Argentina.

“The fact that he offers something different is enough for me to follow him,” summarized Marcos Callorda, 41, a voter quoted by the British daily The Guardian. “What I like about Milei's proposals is that they are different from the economic policies we have implemented over the last 20 years which have resulted in shameful levels of poverty, marginalization and inflation having impoverished everyone. »

A perspective far from being shared by a hundred economists around the world – including the Frenchman Thomas Piketty, the Indian Jayati Ghosh, the American Branko Milanović and the Colombian José Antonio Ocampo, among others – who, a few days of voting on Sunday, warned Argentines of the risks of being led down a slippery and dangerous slope by this candidate who takes advantage of despair and who fuels anger and emotion.

“Given the frequent financial crises and recurrent bouts of dizzying inflation that Argentina experiences, a deep desire for economic stability is legitimate,” they write in an open letter published in the Spanish daily El País. “However, while seemingly simple solutions may be attractive, they risk causing more damage in the short term, while reducing policy space in the long term,” they continue.

The group says it is “particularly concerned” about two components of Milei's economic agenda — dollarization and public funding cuts — which, by “neglecting the complexities of modern economies” and ignoring historical crises, “open the door to the accentuation of already serious inequalities”, according to them.

Plague or cholera?

“These economists may be right,” says Eugenia Mitchelstein, “but their opinion will not influence the vote. People are very angry and are ready to embrace any change, no matter how drastic. »

Sergio Massa helped create this climate, as the main actor in the current government of Alberto Fernández. But the Minister of the Economy is now seeking to distance himself to speak rather of the fundamental principles of Peronism, this movement of social justice and economic independence inherited from Juan Perón, which he defends, than of the obviously problematic results. of 20 years of Kirchnerism, of which he will nevertheless ensure the continuity.

In the campaign, the politician bet on appeasement and normality, facing his messy and noisy opponent who says he is there to “wake the lions” of Argentina rather than to “lead the sheep”. Massa promised, among other things, to renegotiate Argentina's debt with the International Monetary Fund (IMF): it is the highest in the world. He also poses as guardian of the public service, which should turn massively to him on Sunday, and calls for promoting an increase in exports and a reduction in taxes for small businesses. Among others.

In 52 years of existence, Javier Milei has not managed any project, any company. And that thought keeps me up at night.

— Eugenia Mitchelstein

“The question that voters will have to answer once in the voting booth is: Is Javier Milei capable of leading a large country of almost 50 million inhabitants, a country difficult to govern due to a strong civil society that “does not sleep,” to quote sociologist Juan Carlos Torre? » summarizes Eugenia Mitchelstein. “In 52 years of existence, Javier Milei has not led a single project, no company. And this thought keeps me up at night,” she adds.

A state of mind that political columnist Luciana Vázquez sums up very well in a recent analysis of the challenges of this presidential election. “Argentina faces a dilemma more than a problem. However, if problems have solutions, dilemmas only have costs. Voting for Massa, voting for Milei, voting blank or not voting will have a cost. Now you have to choose which one you are ready to live with,” she asks her readers of La Nación.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116