Argentina is on the brink as presidential elections offer conflicting visions of the future


By Adam Jordan and Horacio Soria

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentine voters are angry and afraid. Whichever is stronger will tip the balance of the South American country’s presidential election on Sunday and could reshape its diplomatic relations, its economic future and political fault lines in the broader region.

The country, with a population of about 45 million, is scheduled to vote in a runoff on November 19. Sergio MassaHe currently holds the position of Minister of Economy in the ruling Peronist Party, and is from outside the Libertarian Party Javier Miley. Polls show a close race and deep division among voters.

On the ground in Buenos Aires and beyond, there is intense anger at the government, which has overseen inflation accelerating towards 150%, pushing two-fifths of the population into poverty. This weakened Massa and led to the sudden rise of his right-wing rival.

On the other hand, there is fear of Miley, the wild-haired former television critic whose outspoken and aggressive style has led some to compare him to former US President Donald Trump. He often appeared at rallies brandishing a chainsaw, a symbol of his plans to cut government spending.

The two candidates offer vastly different visions for the future of the country, which is an important exporter of soybeans, corn, beef and lithium, the world’s largest International Monetary Fund (IMF) city, and a rising producer of shale oil and gas.

Miley is a vocal critic of China and other left-wing governments he loosely calls “communists,” including in Brazil. He wants to dollarize Argentina’s beleaguered economy and close the central bank; He opposes abortion.

Massa, a centrist politician in a left-leaning government, portrays himself as a defender of the welfare state and the regional trade bloc Mercosur, but is weighed down by his failure to stabilize the economy.

“I’m leaning towards Miley,” said Raquel Bamba, 79, a retiree in Buenos Aires, adding that she was tired of what she described as corruption on the part of mainstream politicians.

“The money doesn’t go to public works, or put food on the table of retirees or underpaid workers – it lines the pockets of politicians.”

However, Massa has won support from some voters with his criticism of Miley’s economic plan, which he says could affect social assistance and raise transportation prices, energy bills and health care, which are currently subsidized by the state.

Fernando Pedernera, a 51-year-old media worker, said: “I vote for Sergio Massa because of the two models that are under discussion now. It is the model that guarantees my survival.” He also criticized candidate Miley for defending the former military dictatorship in Argentina.

Leftist presidents in Brazil, Mexico and Spain expressed their support for Massa, while Nobel Prize-winning Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa and former right-wing leaders from Chile and Colombia backed Miley.

“Not my first choice”

Neither Massa nor Miley entered the second round with a strong mandate. Massa received 37% in the first round in October, while Miley got 30%, although he has since won the support of a major conservative bloc, which could push him over the line if that translates into votes.

Opinion polls show a rapprochement between the couple, with some favoring Miley while others expect Massa to win. Many voters across the country aren’t convinced about either.

“I have already decided this Sunday that I will not vote for any of the candidates,” Nicolas Troitino (31 years old) said in Buenos Aires.

“For me, neither of them represents the hopes I have for the future of the country. They spend more time fighting among themselves than solving people’s problems.”

A libertarian economist who entered politics just two years ago, Miley has energized a strong base of support, especially among young people, while also attracting some middle-ground voters looking to punish Peronists for the economic crisis.

The 21-year-old student, Valentina, who refused to reveal her last name, said: “I will vote for Miley. It was not my first choice, but it is what I have left.”

“I don’t agree with all his social policies, but I agree with most of his economic plans. It seems to me that Massa is not proposing a plan, nor saying what he will do.”

Massa, who was appointed as “senior minister” last year to try to correct the economy, has so far struggled to get it under control, with inflation accelerating to its highest level in 30 years. Net foreign exchange reserves are deep in the red.

However, he has strong political experience – unlike Miley – and is seen as someone capable of negotiating across the political divide, as well as with the country’s powerful unions, corporations and investors.

“It seems to me that looking to the future, he is the only political actor who really enjoys the support of the entire political arena, whether from the opposition or from the ruling party,” Gonzalo, a 31-year-old judicial employee, said in his first appearance. name.

He added: “I don’t know if it is the best, but in this context, and in this direct confrontation, it seems to me that it is the most viable option for the country.”

The new Congress, which has already been decided in the first round of voting in October, will be highly divided, with no single bloc receiving a majority, meaning the winner will need to gain support from other factions to move forward with legislation.

This is likely to curb more radical reforms and force Massa or Miley to moderate. The powerful provincial governors are also divided between the Peronists and the main conservative coalition, with none of them allied with Maile.

A divided electorate also increases the potential for social unrest, said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America program, adding that Argentina could be in for a “difficult ride” if the new president fails to improve things quickly.

“For now, Argentines are maintaining their courage, clinging to a weak hope that the next government will find a solution to the deep problems afflicting the country,” he said. “This patience will not last long, regardless of who wins on Sunday.”

(Reporting by Adam Jordan and Horacio Soria; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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