BUENOS AIRES, Oct 22 (Reuters) – Argentines went to the polls on Sunday to vote in a general election under the shadow of the South American country’s worst economic crisis in two decades, a victory that has fueled the rise of an expatriate far-right libertarian.
The vote will shake Argentina’s already shaky markets, affect its relations with trading partners including China and Brazil, and set the political course for the country, a major grain exporter with huge reserves of lithium and shale gas.
Polls opened at 8:00 a.m. (1100 GMT): libertarian economist Javier Mili, centrist Peronist Economy Minister Sergio Massa and conservative Patricia Bullrich with the three front-runners likely to split the vote.
Promising to “chainsaw” the economic and political status quo, Miley is the winning candidate as angry voters flock to his rip-roaring message, fed up with 138% inflation and more than two-fifths of poverty. population
“People want to change things,” said Federico Aurelio, president of consulting firm Aresco. “How? They have no idea, but they want something else.”
Miley, a brash former TV pundit who has been compared to Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, scored a shock victory in August’s open primaries, although Massa and Bulrich are not far behind and it could prove a close race. Pollsters do not expect a complete victory.
A candidate needs 45% of the vote, or 40% and a 10-point lead, to avoid a runoff on November 19. Voting will close at 6:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Sunday. And the first results are expected at 9:00 PM (00:00 GMT).
Whoever wins will have to deal with an 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.
In the midst of this crisis, Miley rose suddenly and promised shock therapy to fix the economy, including dollarization, closing the central bank, drastically reducing the size of government, and privatizing state enterprises.
“He is the only one who understands the situation of the country and how to save it,” said Nicolás Mercado, a 22-year-old student from Buenos Aires.
Massa, the current economic chief, is running despite overseeing inflation reaching triple digits for the first time since 1991. He has promised to reduce the fiscal deficit, rein in the peso and preserve the Peronist social safety net.
“Massa represents some of the traditional guarantees I was raised with: public health, state education, this is what I want to protect with my vote,” said astrologer Flavia Vasquez.
Bullrich, a former defense minister and popular in business circles, saw his support diluted by Miley’s unexpected appearance. Pollsters see him as the most likely of the top three runners to miss the second round.
Reporting by Nicholas Miskul; Editing by Adam Jordan, Chisu Nomiyama, and Barbara Lewis
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