Five conclusions from the Argentine elections | ET REALITY


After two votes, Argentina’s presidential race now heads into its decisive round with the last two political survivors vying to lead a country where people are desperate for financial change.

They are Javier Milei, a far-right libertarian economist and television pundit who has embraced comparisons with Donald J. Trump, and Sergio Massa, Argentina’s center-left economy minister who oversees an economy that has annual inflation of almost 140 percent.

Milei won the open primary election in August and led the polls for months, but in Sunday night’s election, Massa was the clear winner. He garnered nearly 37 percent of the vote, compared to Milei’s 30 percent, sending them to a runoff on Nov. 19.

Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s vote and the road ahead for Argentina.

Milei had entered Sunday as the clear favorite, and some in his campaign predicted he could win the election outright in the first round.

However, he ended the night capturing almost exactly the same percentage of the vote as he did in the August primary, and now faces an opponent in Massa who appears much stronger than previously thought.

Milei has attracted much attention for his promises to radically reform Argentina’s government and economy with a plan to eliminate the country’s central bank and replace its currency with the US dollar.

But analysts said his brash political style, which had drawn comparisons to Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s right-wing former president, likely alienated many centrist voters.

“The supporters who turned him into memes with Bolsonaro and Trump did him no favors,” said Brian Winter, a Latin American analyst and former journalist in Argentina. “Argentinians desperately want change, but there is not enough demand for that kind of conservatism.”

Massa is a two-decade veteran of Argentine politics and the new leader of the Peronist political movement that has dominated Argentina for decades and won nine of the last 12 free and fair presidential elections.

After finishing third in the primaries, the powerful Peronist political machine came out in force on Sunday. Overall turnout rose eight percentage points from August to nearly 78 percent on Sunday, and all of that appeared to benefit the Peronists, as support for the movement increased since the primaries by more than nine percentage points.

“Peronism got scared and acted much more unified,” said María Esperanza Casullo, a political scientist at Argentina’s National University of Río Negro. “Everyone did everything they could to win these elections and in the provinces where things had gone very badly, they recovered.”

Massa also took advantage of his position as Economy Minister and pushed several policies to help his candidacy, including programs that return sales tax to certain workers and eliminate income tax for others.

Those tax breaks could help Massa win the election, but they are questionable measures in a country that is already bankrupt and going through one of its worst economic crises in years.

Poverty is rising, inflation is approaching 140 percent and the value of the Argentine peso is plummeting. That economic turmoil has given Milei a shot at the presidency, despite his inexperience, but some economists worry that his radical policy proposals, such as dollarizing the economy, could do even more damage to an already fragile economy.

However, Massa has led Argentina’s economy for more than a year, just as things were getting worse, and his platform includes no plans to significantly change course. In fact, he has promised to maintain some economic policies that conservative economists criticize, such as large subsidies for residents’ energy costs.

Still, Massa has generally been more market-friendly than other Peronist leaders, and since Sunday’s elections gave the Peronists the most seats in Argentina’s Congress (although still without a majority), he will be much more capable. better to govern than Mr. Milei, said Martín Rapetti, an Argentine economist.

But how would he govern? “Here we enter conjectural territory,” Rapetti said. “Massa has not said anything concrete about his economic program.”

The candidate most liked by the markets, Patricia Bullrich, a former right-wing security minister, was eliminated from the race on Sunday.

Even if Bullrich is out of the race, he could still decide the presidency.

Despite coming in third, Bullrich still got 24 percent of the vote, and the main question in the race is which way his 6.2 million voters lean.

Milei, as a conservative, is believed to have inside information on those voters, and in his concession speech Sunday night, he criticized the Peronists. It is unlikely that many of his supporters, after years of failed Peronist policies, will switch to Massa.

However, many other Bullrich supporters are centrists and, for them, Milei might be too extreme.

While Massa won on Sunday, he is far from a sure bet in the second round.

There is widespread anti-Peronist sentiment in Argentina after years of corruption scandals and economic crises, and Massa also has the baggage of being economy minister in a failing economy.

“Countries don’t typically elect finance ministers to oversee 140 percent inflation,” Winter said. “But they don’t usually choose people like Javier Milei either.”

Milei appears to have reached a ceiling of voters who really want him to be president. He must now convince the majority of voters at stake to back his vision of drastic change for a country that has long resisted change.

Both candidates opted for moderation in their speeches on Sunday night and will try to open their doors to the political parties that were eliminated from the final round. There is still a lot of campaigning to do.

Lucía Cholakian Herrera contributed with reports.

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