Only one of eight surveys of Argentines conducted just this October, literally on the eve of the presidential election, favored Peronist Sergio Massa. The other seven favored libertarian Javier Milei to win. Third place according to all polls was expected to go to former security minister Patricia Bullrich, a conservative.
Everything foreshadowed a tough struggle between the «three thirds» representing diametrically opposed visions of Argentina’s development. What all the polls agreed on was the inevitability of a second round scheduled for November 19.
That there will be a second round is not surprising. After the three main political forces each scored about 30% in the primaries, all analysts and election observers were confident that no candidate would win 45% of the vote this Sunday, or 40% by the 10-point margin required by the country’s constitution.
On Sunday, however, many voters demonstrated that they preferred the outsider of the primary, center-leftist Sergio Massa, to the primary leader, right-wing populist Javier Milei. As a result, the candidate from Peronist, Minister of Economy Sergio Massa received 36.7% of the vote, libertarian radical Javier Miley — 30%, and the conservative Patricia Bullrich with 23.8% lost and had to leave the «race» — this is the law. 25.9 million people participated in the election, which is 74% of the total number of voters.
The election of Sergio Massa, according to the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, was «a real surprise». The unexpected first place for Argentina’s ruling Peronists in Sunday’s general election “may calm market fears of a landslide victory” for libertarian radical Javier Milei, who has promised to dollarize the economy and close the central bank.
«When I become president, I will create a government of national unity built on the unification of the best forces, regardless of their political beliefs», Massa appealed to his voters following the results of the first round. «The crack has disappeared», the presidential candidate hastened to assure.
Massa was indeed hasty with the latter. It is not a crack, but a socio-economic abyss that is currently unfolding in Argentina. And there is unlikely to be a quick fix, because Argentina’s current economic problems are rooted in decades of mismanagement.
In the third quarter of this year, GDP contracted sharply in both annual and quarterly terms due to a devastating drought, hyperinflation, currency restrictions, a depreciating peso and soaring interest rates. The country is in recession for the sixth time in a decade and inflation has reached 138.3%, the highest on record.
According to Bloomberg, the economy continues to shrink, economic activity has declined on an annualized basis while the rate of decline in industrial production has intensified. As a result, the country — South America’s second-largest economy and once one of the richest in the region — «has an economy that looks increasingly unique, and not in a good way». Today, about 40 percent of Argentines live at or below the poverty line. According to Bloomberg, Argentina has received $6.5 billion in aid from China, which Alberto Fernandez’s government will be able to use to keep the country’s economy alive until at least the second round of elections.
Many blame the situation on the Peronists. But Sergio Massa, a moderate politician, parried the accusations by saying that the government’s social safety nets and subsidies have become key to many struggling Argentines.
But the main reason for Sergio Massa’s victory should be sought in the province of Buenos Aires, which Argentina calls el urbano — the «suburb» surrounding the capital. It is the most densely populated and poorest area in the country. It is where Peronism originated 80 years ago in proletarian slums, and it is where 24% of the country’s voters, who overwhelmingly cast their ballots for the ruling party, are concentrated.
Milei ignored this «hegemony» by threatening with a chainsaw to end social plans in education, health care and social support, kicking tens of thousands of public servants into the streets and “sawing with gasoline” the economic and political status quo.
Massa has built his campaign on promising voters stability, which contrasts with the radical changes that Milei is proposing. A lawyer and politician with years of experience, Economy Minister Sergio Massa represents the political establishment, the Peronists who have governed Argentina for 16 of the past 20 years. Javier Milei is a relative political newcomer, having served only one term in the National Congress, an economist, former rocker and TV host.
In general, the «dark mastiff» (Milei’s favorite dogs, with whom he «communicated» through a medium at a meeting with voters) remains dark only for the uninitiated. In fact, he, like Patricia Bullrich, who won the primary with him, are secret proteges of the same Washington. The stakes are high. At stake is the future of South America’s second-largest economy, the «center of the universe», which has 13 lithium projects in the pipeline — more than any other country.
On the other hand, as of January 1, 2023, Argentina must become a full member of BRICS, a major economic competitor of the collective West. Only the president, who will take office on December 10, 2023, can prevent this. Milei will end Argentina’s participation in BRICS and throw everything he has into making the dollar the national currency. Massa will continue the work started by current President Alberto Fernandez and become a member of BRICS along with Luiz Lula da Silva’s Brazil. The very idea that the two largest economies and territories of Latin America will be out of American control is infuriating for the White House. It is not far from a preventive coup d’état in case of a Peronist victory.
Already this past Monday, candidates began competing for the votes of the right-wing coalition “Together for Change» Bullrich. Both Massa and Milei have chances for votes in this heterogeneous alliance. With Milei having the advantage, a large portion of Bullrich voters are anti-Peronist and would never vote for Massa or any other left-wing representative. Part of this electorate will go to Milei, those who do not want to vote for the «upstart» will probably prefer to stay home.
Massa will also have allies. This will not be the first time that the Radical Civic Union has made some kind of alliance with Peronism. Massa’s supporters will also get a significant portion of the traditional left’s 650,000 votes. That leaves nearly two million votes for conservative opposition Peronist Juan Schiaretti, whose majority of voters are expected to support Milei.
Massa and Milei will face almost a month of bitter infighting. A struggle between two polar opposite economic models for the crisis-ridden country. A struggle that will become the main intrigue of Argentina’s social and political life on the eve of the second round on November 19. And we can be more than sure that the United States and the European Union will make their contribution.
The results of this race will determine whether Argentina will retain its center-left administration or whether the country will turn sharply to the right. And this is the case when the results of the first round do not decide anything yet.