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ARGENTINA | 22-10-2023 18:11

Exit polls forecast presidential run-off as polling stations close in Argentina

Argentines nationwide headed to the polls Sunday to pick a president they will trust with the urgent mission to pull the economy from the brink of disaster.

Voting has ended in Argentina’s crucial presidential election and counting is underway.

Several exit polls are forecasting the vote is likely to go to a run-off vote, which would be staged on November 19.

According to national electoral authorities, 74 percent of the electorate had cast a vote by the time polling stations closed, though that number could increase with citizens still waiting in line

Argentines were choosing from five presidential candidates: libertarian frontrunner Javier Milei (La Libertad Avanza), ruling coalition hopeful and economy minister, Sergio Massa (Unión por la Patria), opposition leader Patricia Bullrich (Juntos por el Cambio), centrist Córdoba Governor Juan Schiaretti (Hacemos por Nuestro País) and left-winger Myriam Bregman (Frente de Izquierda y de Trabajadores-Unidad).

Milei, Massa and Bullrich are the likely winners and took the most votes in the August 13 PASO primaries that decided the presidential candidates.

In addition to the presidency, voters are also choosing lawmakers for the lower house Chamber of Deputies and upper house Senate.

The provinces of Buenos Aires, Entre Ríos and Catamarca are also voting to decide their governors for the next four years. Citizens in the capital, Buenos Aires City, will define their next mayor.

Preliminary results are expected at around 10pm, with an identifiable trend expected close to midnight.

 

‘Happy birthday’

Argentines went to the polls Sunday after an election campaign dominated by debate of how to reverse years of economic decline. Record inflation, recession and rising poverty propelled Milei, an outspoken economist who rages against the nation’s “political caste,” to the front of a tight race.

Hundreds of supporters swarmed around the lawmaker, chanting his name and singing "Happy Birthday" (Milei turned 53 on election day) as he arrived to vote at a polling station. Milei briefly stumbled under the crush of the crowd.

"We are prepared to form the best government in history," he declared to cheers from supporters.

Milei has vowed to dollarise the economy, slash spending, and "dynamite" the Central Bank in a bid to solve years of economic decay. 

Massa faced an uphill task running for election given Argentina’s devastating economic indicators. With inflation running at more than 138 percent per annum and the economy set to enter recession, more than 40 percent of the population is currently living in poverty.

As he cast his ballot in Tigre on Sunday, Massa called for "calm", saying, "on Monday, Argentina goes on."

Bullrich, a stern, tough-talking leader, has vowed to enforce austerity and deliver radical change from the overspending, money-printing Peronists and their strict currency controls.

A former security minister, she 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 US$44-billion loan with the International Monetary Fund, which has bailed Argentina out 22 times despite several massive defaults.

As she cast her vote at the La Rural exhibition centre in Buenos Aires on Sunday, she confidently predicted:  "I am going to be president."

 

Economic jitters

Many are jittery over the impact of the Sunday’s vote on the volatile peso and runaway 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 Maía Olguin, 40, who did not want to reveal her vote.

"I'll choose the lesser evil," said trader Raúl Narvaez, 64, who also said he was unimpressed with the options.

With poverty and destitution on the rise, and a middle class brought to its knees by soaring price hikes, 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 said he works in sales in 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 run-off 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.

 

'Anarcho-capitalist'

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 dishevelled 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.

Massa represents the ruling centre-left Peronist coalition, a populist movement heavy on state intervention and welfare programmes 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 went 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.

 

– TIMES/PERFIL/AFP

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