Argentina's election campaign was marked by heated exchanges Wednesday as President Alberto Fernández pressed charges against frontrunner candidate Javier Milei for dissing the national currency amid a steep crash.
Fernández announced he had reported Milei for "public intimidation" after the candidate said Monday the Argentine peso "isn't worth excrement."
Milei, who presdents himself as an anti-establishment candidate, urged people away from investment in the local currency, saying: "Never in pesos, never in pesos."
The currency crashed to over 1,000 to the dollar on the informal parallel 'dólar blue' market, a record low, from 880 before the weekend.
The informal or "blue dollar" exchange rate is now almost three times the official rate of 365.50 to the dollar.
In his complaint, published by state news agency Télam, Fernández invoked a section of the penal code that punishes acts that "inspire public fear or provoke tumult or disorder" by between two and six years in prison.
The Peronist leader also cited two other leaders of Milei's La Libertad Avanza (LLA) party – outsider Buenos Aires City mayoral candidate Ramiro Marra and Buenos Aires Province legislative hopeful Agustín Romo – and claimed the trio's actions were directly responsible for the peso's collapse.
Such legal complaints are common in Argentina and often don’t advance beyond initial stages.
'Am I responsible?'
Milei retorted in a press conference later on Wednesday that the powers that be were seeking to "ban the most-voted political force" ahead of a first round of presidential elections on October 22.
He came out tops in a countrywide primary vote in August, and is ahead in opinion polls.
"Let them file all the complaints they want, nothing will prevent the beating we will give them at the polls," Milei said.
"If the government wants to stop those responsible for the currency and financial run, what it has to do is go and look in the mirror," he declared.
"Am I responsible for the fiscal deficit, for the monetary emission, for the taking on of debt, for each one of the regulations that are destroying the productive system, for the 'cepo' ["clamp," a reference to currency controls] on the purchase of dollars?"
The libertarian lawmaker argued he had not even been in politics two years, and that blaming him for the state of the economy – inflation is running at more than 120 percent, poverty at 40 percent and the Central Bank has a dearth of foreign currency – was disingenuous.
“The government knows that we are only a few points away from winning in October,” Milei said, referring to an outright victory instead of going to a run-off vote in November.
Also Wednesday, the ruling party candidate and Economy Minister Sergio Massa, said he would request "a psychological and psychiatric evaluation of the candidates" before any second voting round.
"Being president requires a certain emotional stability," he said, without naming Milei.
"They don't care about the people, they only care about an attractive phrase to generate a headline for the media," he said.
The other leading presidential contender, opposition Juntos por el Cambio leader Patricia Bullrich, has also expressed concern about Milei's "emotional instability."
Milei, an economist who is positioning himself as an outsider, has vowed to dollarise Argentina's economy.
He has also said he wants to abolish the Central Bank, ban abortion, liberalise the sale of arms and open up a market for the sale of human organs.
The dollar has long been a safe haven from the peso, and Argentines buy the currency whenever they can as a form of savings and protection from foreign exchange volatility.
The "blue dollar" has flourished in recent years as the government has restricted citizens to buying US$200 a month due to diminishing foreign reserves.
"We have to be very clear: inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon," Milei insisted Wednesday.
"Our statements, far from being imprudent, are the only responsible ones thinking of the welfare of Argentines. Or do you want to be lied to?