BUENOS AIRES, Oct 22 (Reuters) – of Argentina The ruling Peronist coalition defied expectations to hold the country’s general election on Sunday, setting the stage for a polarized run-off vote next month between Economy Minister Sergio Massa and far-right libertarian extremist Javier Mili.
Massa had 36.6% of the vote, more than 30% ahead of Millay, while conservative Patricia Bulrich trailed at 23.8%, with 98% of votes counted, a result that defied pre-election polls that had predicted a libertarian victory.
Despite the surprising strength of the Peronists overseeing inflation reaching triple digits for the first time since 1991, an intriguing second round between the two polar opposite economic models is set for November 19.
The decision eases concerns about a radical shift in policy amid a decisive victory by Milley, who proposed dollarizing the economy and closing the central bank, but it still leaves the country with few answers to its worst economic crisis in two decades.
Argentines flocked to the polls on Sunday amid economic woes and anger with traditional elites.
“I know a lot of people who voted for us are hurting,” Massa said after the results. “Our country faces a complex, difficult situation, full of challenges to face… I’m not going to defeat them.”
Many have blamed the Peronists, but Massa – a moderate – has denied the government’s social safety nets and subsidies are important to many hard-pressed Argentines, including a recent stunt showing how train and bus fares would rise sharply if he lost.
The news seems to have struck a chord.
Carlos Gutierrez, a 61-year-old bricklayer who went to vote on Sunday, said “Peronism is the only place that gives the poorest of us the chance to have the basics at our fingertips.”
Miley, meanwhile, has proposed radical moves such as dollarizing the economy and criticized key trading partners China and Brazil. He is pro-reduction in the size of government and anti-abortion.
A candidate needs 45% of the vote, or 40% and a 10-point lead, to win outright on Sunday.
As a result, setting things up subtly and pushing out the race’s establishment candidate, Fulrich, will send jitters to wobbly markets on Monday, with little clarity on the country’s path forward.
“We’ve never had so much polarization,” said Silvia Monto, a 72-year-old pensioner who voted in Buenos Aires on Sunday.
‘A little more overwhelms us’
Miley vowed to “chainsaw” the economic and political situation, appealing to some angry voters fed up with rising prices rather than wages, to his rip-roaring message.
“He is the only one who understands the country’s situation and knows how to save it,” said Nicolás Mercado, a 22-year-old student from Buenos Aires.
Miley, in a defiant speech after the result, said he would fight to win the second round next month.
“We are facing the most important election in the last 100 years,” he said. Working together we can win, working together we can restore the country.
Election officials reported a 74% turnout from the August primaries, but significantly lower than the 81% turnout in the last election and the lowest general election turnout since the return to democracy in 1983.
Whoever wins will have to maneuver the economy on life support: central bank reserves are empty, a recession is expected after a major drought, and a $44 billion program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is faltering.
Silvana Desilio, 37, a housewife in Buenos Aires province, said it was hard to see a positive outcome no matter who won.
“All the governments are making promises and drowning us a little more. It seems unbelievable, but we are getting worse. We read that other countries have dealt with our worsening problems,” he said.
Reporting by Nicholas Miskul; Additional reporting by Eliana Raszewski, Jorge Otaola, Maximilian Heath, Lucila Sigal, Walter Bianchi, Claudia Gaillard, Leo Benassatto, and Miguel Lo Bianco; Editing by Adam Jordan, John Stonestreet, Lisa Schumacher, Diane Croft and Sri Navarathanam
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