Voters in Argentina went to the polls on Sunday to cast their ballots in a presidential runoff that will determine whether South America’s second-largest economy shifts to the right.
Populist Javier Miley, an upstart candidate who started out as a TV spokesman, is often likened to former US President Donald Trump. He faces Economy Minister Sergio Massa of the Peronist party, which has been a leading force in Argentine politics for decades.
Under Massa, the inflation rate rose to more than 140% and poverty increased. Miley, a self-described anarcho-capitalist, proposes reducing the size of the state and curbing inflation, while Massa warns people of the negative effects of such policies.
Highly polarized elections force many to decide which option they consider to be the less bad.
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“Whatever happens in this election is going to be unbelievable,” said Lucas Romero, director of local political consulting firm Synopsys. “It would be incredible for Massa to win in this economic context or for Miley to win against a professional candidate like Massa.”
Polling stations opened their doors at eight in the morning (1100 GMT) and closed ten hours later. Voting is done using paper ballots, making the counting process unpredictable, but preliminary results were expected about three hours after polling stations closed.
Miley went from criticizing the country’s “political class” on television to winning a seat in Parliament two years ago. The economists’ statements resonated widely among Argentines angry about their struggle to make ends meet, especially young people.
“The money covers little by little every day,” Esteban Medina, a 26-year-old physical therapist from Ezeiza, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, told The New York Times. “I am a qualified individual, and my salary is not enough for anything.” The Associated Press on the sidelines of Miley’s rally earlier this week.
Massa, as one of the most prominent figures in a deeply unpopular administration, was seen as having little chance of winning. But he managed to mobilize his Peronist party’s networks and decisively took first place in the first round of voting.
His Argentine campaign has warned that his liberal opponent’s plan to abolish key ministries and sharply downsize the state would threaten public services, including health, education, and social welfare programs on which many depend. Massa also drew attention to his opponent’s often aggressive rhetoric and publicly questioned his mental acuity. Before the first tour, Miley would sometimes carry a speeding saw at rallies.
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“Massa’s only chance to win this election when people want change…is to make this election a referendum on whether or not Miley is qualified to be president,” said Ana Ibaragiri, partner at pollster GBAO Strategies.
Miley accused Massa and his allies of running a “campaign of fear” and backed away from some of his most controversial proposals, such as easing gun restrictions. In his latest campaign ad, Miley looks into the camera and assures voters that he has no plans to privatize education or health care.
Most pre-election polls, which have been largely wrong on every step of this year’s campaign, show a statistical tie between the candidates. Voters for first-round candidates who did not make it to the runoff will be the base. Patricia Bullrich, who placed third, endorsed Miley.
Javier Rojas, a 36-year-old pediatrician who voted for Bullrich in October, told the Associated Press that he was leaning toward Miley, then added: “Well, to be honest, it’s more of a vote against the other side than anything else.”
Underscoring the bitter division this campaign has brought to the forefront, Miley received boos and cheers on Friday night at Buenos Aires’ legendary Colon Theater.
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The vote is taking place amid Miley’s allegations of possible election fraud, which is reminiscent of allegations by Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Without providing evidence, Miley claimed that the first round of the presidential elections was marred by irregularities that affected the outcome. Experts say such irregularities cannot influence the election, and that his assertions are partly aimed at galvanizing his base and motivating his supporters to become poll watchers.
Such claims spread widely on social media, and at Miley’s rally in Ezeiza earlier this week, all those interviewed told the AP they were concerned about the integrity of the vote.
“You don’t need to show statistically significant errors,” Fernanda Borrell of the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems said in an email. “If you draw enough attention to one problem at a polling place that it likely won’t affect the results in any meaningful way, people are likely to overestimate the frequency and impact of those and other problems in elections overall.”