Desperate to emerge from a stifling economic crisis, Argentines began voting Sunday in a controversial election between the embattled economy minister. Sergio Massa And the libertarian outsider Javier Miley.
The two men represent very different futures for Latin America’s third-largest economy, which suffers from triple-digit inflation and poverty levels of more than 40 percent.
Polls show the candidates are so closely contested, with Miley holding such a slight lead that no one wants to predict the outcome.
About 36 million Argentines will be able to cast their votes until 6 p.m. (2100 GMT), and the results are expected to appear after a few hours. The new president is scheduled to take office on December 10.
Massa (51 years old) is a charismatic and seasoned politician who seeks to convince Argentines to trust him despite his performance as Minister of the Economy, which witnessed an annual inflation rate that reached 143 percent.
His rival, Miley, is an anti-establishment outsider who has pledged to stop Argentina’s rampant spending, ditch the peso for the US dollar, and “dynamite” the central bank.
Political analyst Ana Ibaraguirre of GBAO Strategies said Argentines are “on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” describing tensions over what comes next.
Most are so disgusted by their options that they will be “forced to choose the lesser of two evils.”
Turnout will be decisive, as opinion polls show that about 10 percent of voters are still undecided, and that the elections will be held over a long weekend.
Nurse Laura Coleman (25 years old) said: “None of the candidates presented good proposals. I voted for the candidate who would cause the least amount of harm to the country, which is going through a very complicated situation.”
-Miley puts the saw away-
Miley, a 53-year-old economist, is a newcomer to the political scene and stunned observers by rising to the front of the election race just a few months ago.
Often likened to former US President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Massa accuses him of imitating politicians by raising the specter of election fraud – for which he has provided no evidence.
Miley’s statements against traditional parties that have failed to stop decades of economic decline have excited voters who are fed up with the status quo.
“I hope Miley wins,” said taxi driver Daniel Ayala, 50, adding that he was “tired of corruption” in the ruling Peronist coalition.
In the first round of elections in October, Massa confounded the polls by coming in first place with nearly 37%, while Miley received about 30% of the votes.
Both of them rushed to get millions of votes from the three losing candidates.
Third-place candidate Patricia Bullrich, from the strong center-right opposition, threw her weight behind Miley.
Miley softened her tone to appeal to her more moderate voters, and appealed to the general public not to give in to the fear stoked by Massa’s campaign.
“If you are afraid of being paralyzed… nothing will change. We will not privatize health and education, and we will not allow the unrestricted carrying of weapons,” he said.
He said earlier that he would abandon those ministries entirely, and supports facilitating the carrying of weapons and even the sale of human organs.
In recent weeks, there has been no sign of the chainsaw he used at rallies, a symbol of the cuts he wanted to make to public spending.
– Quiet alternative –
Massa represents the Peronist Coalition, a populist movement that relies heavily on state intervention and social welfare programs that has dominated Argentine politics for decades.
He has sought to distance himself from the deeply unpopular outgoing President Alberto Fernandez and his deputy Cristina Kirchner, who was convicted last year of fraud. They both disappeared from the public eye.
Massa has sought to portray himself as a calm statesman, in contrast to Miley.
But analysts accuse him of misusing state resources to boost his electoral chances.
This includes using ads to warn that transport prices will rise under Miley, as well as cutting income taxes for almost the entire population and giving cash payments to millions.
– ‘Incredibly deep hole’ –
Regardless of who wins, analysts warn that the road ahead will be difficult for Argentina.
Analysts say the devaluation of the tightly controlled peso is long overdue, and the dollar shortage has led to shortages of fuel, medicine and even bananas in recent weeks.
With low central bank reserves and no credit line, the next government “will dig Argentina out of an incredibly deep hole with very few resources to do so,” said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Argentina Project at Washington-based Wilson University. center.
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