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Argentina Presidential Election: Sergio Massa and Javier Milei Face Off in Run-off Vote

Composite picture of Argentine presidential candidates Sergio Massa, Patricia Bullrich and Javier Milei.
Composite picture of Argentine presidential candidates Sergio Massa, Patricia Bullrich, and Javier Milei.

In a surprising turn of events, Argentina’s economy minister, Sergio Massa, has defied all odds, securing over 36% of the votes in the recent presidential election. This outcome sets the stage for a run-off contest between Massa and far-right candidate Javier Milei. As the ballot count nears completion, no candidate has achieved the 45% threshold required for an outright victory.

The prevailing sentiment among many pollsters was that voters would hold Massa accountable for the economic turmoil that has gripped Argentina. With inflation hovering around 140%, it’s no wonder that many expected a tough battle for the incumbent minister.

Front-runner Javier Milei had been leading in the pre-election polls, but his 30% vote share was surpassed by his left-wing rival, Sergio Massa. The Argentine populace now faces a crucial decision between these two candidates, with the run-off vote scheduled for November 19.

Notably, the election witnessed a voter turnout of 74%, as reported by local media. Argentina’s pre-election polls are notorious for their inaccuracy and failure to predict political shifts, such as Milei’s rise in the August primaries.

Milei, a far-right politician, has gained significant support due to his promise to abolish the central bank and replace the Argentine peso with the US dollar. He has also championed economic policy shifts, emphasizing the reduction of government offices to streamline bureaucracy.

Sergio Massa and former security minister Patricia Bullrich were Milei’s main rivals leading up to the election, representing Argentina’s traditional coalition. Massa centered his campaign on defending the social and labor credentials of the Peronist movement. He argued that the austerity measures enacted during his tenure were necessary due to the IMF debt accumulated by the previous center-right administration.

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A partial vote count indicated that 23.8% of the votes went to right-wing candidate Patricia Bullrich, who pledged to restore “order” to the country. Bullrich had previously served as the security minister during Buenos Aires’s center-right leadership from 2015 to 2019. In her post-defeat address, Bullrich criticized the return of “populism” to power, asserting that it had impoverished the nation.

Trailing behind these three leading candidates were politicians Juan Schiaretti and Myriam Bregman. This unexpected twist places Sergio Massa in the lead, despite expectations that Milei would dominate the election.

The uncertainty stemming from these unpredictable results sets the stage for a challenging four-week period leading up to the run-off on November 19—a crucial time for Argentina’s economy.

One thing is clear: the winner of the presidential election faces the monumental task of earning the trust of a populace weary of political turmoil and yearning for a better life. In his address to supporters, Javier Milei emphasized the historic significance of this election, describing it as “the most important in the last 100 years.” He argued that Sunday’s vote was historic because it represented a call for change. Benjamin Gedan of the Wilson Center concurred, highlighting the suffering endured by the Argentine people in recent years.

Gedan also noted that the cost of implementing significant infrastructure changes, such as those affecting public transportation and natural gas, may not be appealing to many voters.

Before the election, polls had indicated the possibility of a run-off in the presidential race. To win outright in the first round, a candidate must secure more than 45% of the votes or 40% plus a margin of 10 percentage points over their closest rival.

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In addition to choosing a new president and vice-president, Argentinians voted for 130 new representatives for the lower house of Congress, which consists of 257 members, and 24 new senators for the 72-member upper house.

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