BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina was on edge on Sunday as voting in a close presidential runoff ended with two very different visions for the country’s future and voters angry at triple-digit inflation and rising poverty.
The elections pit Peronist Economy Minister Sergio Massa, who is presiding over the country’s worst economic crisis in two decades, against the radical libertarian outsider Javier Maili, who was slightly favored in opinion polls before the vote.
Miley pledges economic shock therapy, from closing the central bank to getting rid of the peso and cutting spending, reforms that may be painful and have resonated with voters angry about the economic crisis, but have raised fears of austerity in other countries.
With many Argentines unconvinced by either candidate, some described the election as a choice of the “lesser of two evils”: fear of Miley’s painful economic cure or anger at Massa over the economic crisis.
Businessman Samuel Gwenston, 76, said: “They both promise a better future, but with opposing policies. Massa had his chance and did nothing, so I will make a change.”
In the first round of voting in October, Massa received 36.7% of the vote, compared to about 30% for Milli. The Liberal has since won public support from third-place finisher Patricia Bullrich, although it is not certain all of her votes will switch to him.
Whoever wins, it will shake up Argentina’s political landscape, its economic roadmap, its trade in grains, lithium and hydrocarbons, and its relations with China, the United States, Brazil and others.
The story of the race so far has been the rise of Miley, a 53-year-old economist and former television commentator, who has served as a buffer against voter anger, threatening to blow up the status quo and destroy what he calls a “class” of people. Political elite.
On Sunday, Miley denounced the “campaign of fear” against him, but expressed confidence in it.
“Now we will let the ballot boxes do the talking,” Miley said after casting her vote in Buenos Aires. “Let us hope there is more hope tomorrow and an end to the decadence.”
“This is a very important election that determines the direction of our country for the next four years,” Massa told reporters after casting his vote in Buenos Aires province.
The winner is scheduled to take office on December 10 and will replace outgoing centre-left Peronist President Alberto Fernandez.
“I’m going to change”
Millie had a slight lead in opinion polls, but most showed a close and uncertain race. Massa, 51, an experienced political car dealer, has won back votes through tax cuts and campaigns highlighting Miley’s radical plans to cut government spending.
Teacher Susana Martinez (42 years old) said on Sunday, “Miley’s policies scare me, and that is why I am voting for Massa, not out of conviction. As the saying goes, it is better to know the devil.”
Miley, who carried a chainsaw at the rallies symbolically for his planned cuts, favors the privatization of state companies and changes to health and education. In recent weeks, he has shelved the chainsaw as he seeks to improve his image and appeal to centrist voters.
His supporters describe him as the only candidate capable of overthrowing the Peronist government and ending years of crisis that has afflicted the second largest economy in South America.
“You cannot vote for the current government under these conditions, and a blank vote will only favor it,” said Santiago Nerea, a 34-year-old accountant. “Miley is the only viable option so we don’t end up miserable.”
Whoever wins the presidency will have to contend with empty government and central bank coffers, a crumbling $44 billion debt program with the International Monetary Fund, inflation approaching 150%, and a dizzying array of capital controls.
Voter anger over the crisis may be the deciding factor, given that Massa has managed the economy for more than a year.
Both will face a deeply divided Congress, with no single bloc gaining a majority. The winner will need to get support from other factions to move forward with the legislation. Maili’s coalition also has no regional governors or mayors.
Polling stations officially closed their doors at around 6 p.m. (2100 GMT), and the first official results are expected to appear a few hours later. However, some people still voted, with turnout at around 76%.
“None of the candidates gives me certainty about the future,” Josefina Valiente, a 63-year-old retiree, said as she cast her vote in Buenos Aires on Sunday. “I came to vote out of obligation so we can change the country once and for all.”
(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin and Walter Bianchi – Prepared by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) (Additional reporting by Candelaria Grimberg, Jorge Otaola and Lucila Segal – Prepared by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) Writing by Adam Jordan. Edited by Andrew Heavens, Will Dunham, and Rosalba O’Brien
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