Oct 19, 2023 - World

Far-right candidate leads polls ahead of Argentina's presidential election

Argentine presidential candidate Javier Milei extends his arm out to a large crowd of people trying to reach him. He is riding atop the cab of a pickup and is surrounded by people.

Javier Milei (center) greets supporters during a campaign rally on Oct. 16 in Lomas de Zamora, Buenos Aires province, Argentina. Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images

Argentines on Sunday will vote in one of the most uncertain presidential elections in recent history, as a firebrand candidate who aims to tackle a massive economic crisis in part by adopting the American dollar maintains a slight lead in the polls.

Why it matters: Argentina is "at a political and economic breaking point," Benjamin Gedan, director of the Latin American program at the Wilson Center, tells Axios Latino.

  • This election has been on "another level of chaos and uncertainty," Gedan says, adding that it could really shift politics in Argentina, a crucial global exporter of food and goods.
  • Around 40% of the population lives in poverty; inflation is in the triple digits; the GDP is shrinking; and there's a looming risk the country will default on its debt.
  • With the economy as a driving force, voters have sidestepped the two main political parties and propelled Javier Milei, a far-right member of Congress and a libertarian economist, to the top of the presidential ticket.

What to know: Milei, a self-described "anarcho-capitalist," has proposed ditching the Argentine peso in favor of the U.S. dollar, a popular proposal among voters that he says will undercut inflation.

  • Milei also wants to privatize state companies and eliminate the nation's Central Bank — an idea he likes to promote by posing for pictures with a chainsaw to signify trimming what he deems as unnecessary government institutions.
  • He also opposes abortion, which is legal in the country until 14 weeks of pregnancy, and has said that the law should be put to a referendum.
  • Milei has proposed abolishing sex education, deregulating gun sales and legalizing human organ trading. He says climate change is a "socialist lie."

The other candidates are Patricia Bullrich, former security minister from the center-right Juntos por el Cambio coalition, and Sergio Massa, the minister of economy from the center-left coalition Unión por la Patria.

  • Bullrich, who was once considered the frontrunner, has honed in on promises to fight crime, unify exchange rates and institute austerity measures to fight inflation.
  • Massa is promoting infrastructure projects for exporting gas or lithium to net more revenue and has plans to ease taxes for small companies and strengthen public education with STEM programs.

Between the lines: Milei supporters don't necessarily back all of his proposals but are drawn to his anti-establishment promises, says Federica Sánchez Staniak, political scientist at the Universidad Alberto Hurtado.

  • Voters want to punish traditional political parties for their handling of economic crises in the past two decades, she says.
  • Gedan adds that some voters may want to "take a very big gamble on someone who'd attempt very high stakes experimental policies" to potentially improve the economy.

The intrigue: While polls show support for Milei, voters are seemingly less bullish on candidates from his Libertad Avanza party for the 154 open congressional seats.

  • Even if he's the next president, Milei would likely lack the legislative support needed for several of his policy proposals, says Sánchez Staniak.

What to watch: A large part of the uncertainty around this election is whether there will be a runoff and, if so, who would compete in it — although it's likely Milei will be the contender to beat.

  • The top candidate would need to secure at least 45% of the vote outright or 40% with a 10-point advantage to avoid a runoff. If none does, the runoff will be held Nov. 19.
  • Voting is mandatory for Argentines ages 18 to 70 years old.

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