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Saturday July 20, 2024

Argentines vote in cliffhanger election with economy at stake

By AFP
November 20, 2023
A man casts his vote at a polling station in Buenos Aires, during the presidential election runoff on November 19, 2023. — AFP
A man casts his vote at a polling station in Buenos Aires, during the presidential election runoff on November 19, 2023. — AFP

BUENOS AIRES: Argentines voted on Sunday in a nail-biter election pitting Economy Minister Sergio Massa against outsider Javier Milei, polar opposite candidates that have divided the country as it reels from triple-digit inflation.

Voters were gripped by fear, uncertainty and resignation as they cast their ballots, with few confident either candidate could put an end to decades of economic decline.

Massa, 51, is a charismatic and seasoned politician seeking to convince Argentines to trust him despite his performance as economy minister which has seen annual inflation hit 143 percent.

His rival Milei is an anti-establishment outsider, who has vowed to halt Argentina´s unbridled spending, ditch the peso for the US dollar, and “dynamite” the central bank.

Argentines are “on the edge of a nervous breakdown,” said political analyst Ana Iparraguirre of GBAO Strategies, describing tensions over what comes next.

“You simply have to choose from what is available. I took a decision, I didn´t choose,” said 33-year-old architect Sofia Speroni, who came to vote with her two toddlers.

She went with Milei, “simply to say no to corruption and the current situation we are in.” Milei´s rants against the “thieving and corrupt” traditional parties have fired up voters tired of the Peronist coalition that has long dominated Argentine politics and whom they blame for the country´s misery.

“One has to vote for the lesser evil,” said doctor Maria Paz Ventura, 26, who cast her ballot for Milei in her scrubs.

“I think we are currently doing badly, so a change can´t be bad. You have to take a bet,” she said. Polls show the candidates in a dead heat, with Milei holding such a slight advantage that no one wants to predict an outcome.

Turnout will be crucial with polls showing about 10 percent of voters still undecided, and the election taking place on a long weekend.

Milei, a 53-year-old economist, is a political newcomer who stunned observers by surging to the front of the electoral race just months ago.

However, Massa scored the most votes in a first-round election in October, coming seven points ahead of Milei. Both have scrambled to shore up millions of votes from the three losing candidates.

Massa has sought to distance himself from the deeply unpopular outgoing President Alberto Fernandez and his Vice President Cristina Kirchner, who was last year convicted of fraud. Both have vanished from the public eye.

“I voted for Massa. The situation in the country is horrible, the economy is very bad. People want a change but it would be a change for the worse with Milei,” said 16-year-old Trinidad Bazan, voting for the first time.