Argentina’s Peronists pull off a surprise election victory to clinch a runoff with liberal Maile

Buenos Aires (Reuters) – Argentina The ruling Peronist coalition shattered expectations to lead the country’s general election on Sunday, setting the stage for a polarizing runoff next month between Economy Minister Sergio Massa and far-right liberal Javier Miley.

Massa received more than 36% of the vote, ahead of Miley with just over 30%, while conservative Patricia Bullrich trailed behind on 23.8% with nearly 90% of the votes counted, a result that defied pre-election polls that predicted The liberals won. .

The Peronists’ surprising strength, despite inflation reaching triple digits for the first time since 1991, sets the stage for an interesting second round on November 19 between two opposing economic models in the beleaguered country.

Argentines flocked to the polls on Sunday amid the country’s worst economic crisis in two decades and growing anger at the traditional elite.

Many blamed the Peronists, but Massa – a moderate – hit back, saying the government’s social safety nets and subsidies were key to many hardline Argentines, including a recent display that showed how train and bus prices could rise sharply if he loses.

“Peronism is the only field that offers the possibility that our poorest can have basic things at our fingertips,” construction worker Carlos Gutierrez, 61, said as he headed to vote on Sunday.

For a candidate to win outright on Sunday, he needed more than 45% of the vote, or 40% and 10 points.

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The result, which leaves matters in limbo and pushes establishment candidate Bullrich, is likely to unnerve already volatile markets on Monday, with little clarity on the country’s path forward.

Argentina, the second-largest economy in South America, is a major exporter of soybeans, corn and beef, and has huge reserves of lithium and shale gas. Miley proposes radical steps such as dollarizing the economy and halting trade with China.

“We have never seen this much polarization,” retiree Silvia Monto, 72, said while casting her vote in Buenos Aires on Sunday.

“Drown us a little more”

Fed up with annual inflation approaching 140% and poverty affecting more than two-fifths of the population, Miley has vowed to “fix” the economic and political status quo, attracting angry voters to his tear-it-all-down message.

“He is the only one who understands the situation in the country and understands how to save it,” said Nicolas Mercado, a 22-year-old student in Buenos Aires.

Meanwhile, Susana Munoz, 62, a retiree, said Miley was a reflection of global turmoil, where rising inflation, conflict and migration are fueling divisions.

“The world is complicated and we are not immune to that,” she said while casting her vote on Sunday. “The right is advancing everywhere, and the existence of figures like Miley is unthinkable.”

Election authorities said the turnout was about 74%, compared to the August primary, but much lower than the turnout in the last general election, which was 81% and the lowest turnout in a general election since the return to democracy in 1983.

Whoever wins will have to contend with an economy on life support: central bank reserves are empty, a recession is expected after a major drought, and a $44 billion program with the International Monetary Fund is wobbly.

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Silvana Desilio, 37, a housewife in Buenos Aires province, said it is difficult to see a positive result whoever wins.

“All governments promise us things and end up undermining us a little more,” she said. “It seems unbelievable, but we are getting worse. We read that other countries have overcome problems that are getting worse for us every day.”

(Reporting by Nicola Misculin and Jorge Otaola – Prepared by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) (Additional reporting by Claudia Gaillard, Leo Benassato and Miguel Lo Bianco) Editing by Adam Jordan, John Stonestreet, Lisa Shoemaker, Diane Craft and Shri Navaratnam

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Ana Catherine Brigida is a correspondent in Buenos Aires, where she has covered Argentine politics and the economy since 2023. From 2015 to 2022, she was based in Central America as a freelance correspondent, where she covered migrant caravans, landmark human rights trials, and major events. Elections, reproductive rights, and more in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. She has a particular interest in covering cryptocurrencies since she began reporting on the topic following El Salvador’s historic 2021 decision to make bitcoin legal tender. Her investigation into the killings of deportees in El Salvador was selected as a finalist for the 2019 International Reporting Livingstone Prize for Young Journalists.

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