Argentines voted Sunday in a presidential election dominated by fury over decades of economic decline and record inflation that has propelled libertarian outsider Javier Milei to the front of a tight race.
Once one of the richest countries in the world, Argentina has found itself unable to escape decades of fiscal crises marked by debt, financial mismanagement, and inflation that now stands at almost 140 percent year-on-year.
Milei has vowed to dollarize the economy, slash spending, and “dynamite” the central bank, and is facing off against the ruling coalition’s beleaguered Economy Minister Sergio Massa, and conservative Patricia Bullrich, who has promised harsh austerity.
Hundreds of supporters swarmed around chanting “Milei, Milei!” and sang “Happy Birthday” to the lawmaker, who turns 53 Sunday, as he arrived to vote, briefly stumbling under the crush of the crowd.
“We are prepared to form the best government in history,” he said. Massa cast his ballot calling for “calm”, saying, “on Monday, Argentina goes on.”
Many are jittery over the impact of the vote on the volatile peso and inflation, with the prospect of weeks of more uncertainty if the vote heads to a run-off on November 19.
“There is so much uncertainty… and fear, out of these candidates, there are none who represent me. There is no one who can change what we need here in Argentina,” said graphic designer Maria Olguin, 40, who did not want to reveal her vote.
“I’ll choose the lesser evil,” said trader Raul Narvaez, 64, also unimpressed with the options.
With 40 percent of the population living in poverty and a middle class brought to its knees, many voters are keen to see the back of the traditional parties they view as the architects of their misery.
“Obviously I voted for Milei,” said Esteban Montenegro, 24, who works in sales in the capital Buenos Aires.
“But it is not that I have all the confidence in the world, or that I think he will do everything, but he is the only one giving solid, transparent proposals.”
To avoid a runoff election on November 19, a candidate needs to win 45 percent of the vote Sunday, or 40 percent with a difference of 10 points or more over the nearest rival.
Milei, a libertarian economist, blindsided pollsters when he surged to the front of the election race, winning an August primary with 30 percent of votes.
Analysts say his spectacular surge follows the regional trend towards anti-establishment parties, and he is often compared to former US president Donald Trump or Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
The self-described “anarcho-capitalist” with disheveled hair and a rock-star persona has shown up at rallies with a powered-up chainsaw, vowing to slash public spending by 15 percent.
He is against abortion and sex education, wants to ditch about ten government ministries, and does not believe humans are responsible for climate change.
However, while Milei has topped opinion polls, these have not proved reliable in the past, and analysts say the race is wide open.
– Traditional parties:
The charismatic economy minister, Massa represents the ruling center-left Peronist coalition, a populist movement heavy on state intervention and welfare programs that has dominated Argentine politics for decades but has grown deeply unpopular.
Having overseen the country’s recent economic pains, he has been an easy punching bag for his rivals.
To woo voters, Massa has gone on a pre-election spending spree, slashing income tax for much of the population in a move analysts say will only make the country’s fragile financial situation worse.
The other frontrunner is the stern and tough-talking Bullrich, who has also vowed radical change from the overspending, money-printing Peronists and their strict currency controls.
She also voted in the afternoon, predicting: “I am going to be president.”
Bullrich served in the government of former president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), a pro-market, non-Peronist who failed in his promise to contain spending and took out a record $44 billion loan with the International Monetary Fund, which has bailed Argentina out 22 times despite several massive defaults.
Preliminary results are expected on Sunday evening.
(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – AFP)