Monday, July 22, 2024

ARGENTINA | 21-09-2023 12:27

'Plan platita,' the 'end of Kirchnerism' and a chainsaw – one month to go until the elections

Wielding his chainsaw, libertarian Javier Milei promises to annihilate the "political caste." Sergio Massa, economy minister and ruling coalition candidate, endlessly announces financial help. Patricia Bullrich talks tough and promises an "end to Kirchnerism."

Wielding his chainsaw, libertarian Javier Milei promises to annihilate the "political caste." Sergio Massa, economy minister and ruling coalition candidate, endlessly announces financial help to counter the impact of the highest inflation rate in 32 years. Patricia Bullrich talks tough and promises an "end to Kirchnerism."

There's still one month to go until Argentina's election and nothing is yet defined – but the promises keep on coming.

Here's a look at three keys ahead of the October 22 vote.



Milei surprised almost eveyrone in the PASO primaries back in August, taking almost 30 percent of the votes. He finished ahead of Massa, the standard-bearer for former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's newly renamed Unión por la Patria coalition, and former security minister, right-winger Patricia Bullrich, whom he now brands part of the professional Argentine "political caste."

Milei, an outspoken libertarian economist, has capitalised on discontent. Citizens are suffering from the highest monthly inflation rate since 1991, 12.4 percent (stretching to 124.4 percent over the last 12 months), a currency losing value and a poverty level that's close to 40 percent.

The La Libertad Avanza candidate has already shown up at his rallies donning boxing gloves and with a chainsaw, symbolising the cutbacks he wishes to make to public services, the size of the state and the "parasitic caste" in general.

He also carried a giant 100-dollar note with his face on it, representing the dollarisation he advocates.

Yet ever since his victory in the PASO primaries, Milei has moderated his discourse. Dollarisation is now a "system of free competition between currencies" in which he is sure the dollar will prevail. And the chainsaw is now "reduced expenditure" within a "first generation reform" plan.

Milei's party "oscillates between an anti-establishment option and presenting a viable political programme," the La Nación newspaper  pointed out.


Pocket money plan

Polls forecast a two-way run-off election between Milei and Massa, who this year finished negotiating a new credit programme to the tune of US$44 billion with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, the conditions of the programme are biting and Buenos Aires must hit certain targets.

Surveys position Milei as the likely winner in the first round with around 32 percent to 35 percent of the votes, ahead of Massa on 29 to 32 percent. The economy minister has regained ground thanks to measures designed to restore some purchasing power since the 21-percent devaluation in August, with subsidies and tax exemptions benefitting working classes and pensioners.

"He's handing out money willy-nilly and I think that will be the policy until the run-off" on November 19, political analyst Raúl Timerman explained. 

Massa, he added, is acting like a "president running for re-election" with official rallies that look like campaigning.

The opposition is calling it the 'plan platita' or "pocket money plan," which they say is irresponsible printing of money which destroys savings and fuels inflation.

The IMF has expressed concern for "policy deviations" and asked for greater control over expenditure, but Massa seems sure this is his road to victory.


An end to Kirchnerism

Bullrich is currently polling at 25 to 28 percent according to voter intention surveys, which have been wrong before. In the PASO primaries, which are a kind of thermometer for the presidential election, Milei was faring around 20 percent before taking almost 10 points more.

Will Milei retain those "protest votes" that went to him in the primaries in the presidential election? And will moderate right-wing voters who supported Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Larreta, the great loser in the primaries, opt to back Bullrich? 

In her ads, she speaks of ending Kirchnerism, a common nemesis, "for good."

The votes of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), the historic social -democrat party with 132 years of history, are especially grab for grabs and their support is divided.

"Radicals have nothing to do with what she represents or proposes," said Ricardo Alfonsín, son of the iconic Radical president (1983-1989) when the country returned to democracy and now aligned with the ruling coalition. 

"Some of them are bound to support Massa, who has Radicals around them," said Pablo Tigani, a political scientist from the University of Buenos Aires.

Governor elections complicate the electoral forecast, since regional and national politics in Argentina have different logics. The ruling coalition has lost half a dozen out of 24, while Milei, who prevailed in 16 provinces in the PASO primaries, witnessed spectacular losses by his provincial candidates.



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