A run-off normally reduces politics to its purest binary logic as a simple either/or proposition but the upcoming showdown between Economy Minister Sergio Massa and libertarian stalwart Javier Milei (which some are already billing as Massa versus ex-president Mauricio Macri) is rather more complex – as perhaps befits the increasingly multi-dimensional universe of this 21st century.
Complex because this is a black-and-white choice only for intense minorities outside the mainstream (and perhaps not even for one of them, given Massa’s diffuse ultra-pragmatism). Massa carries the baggage of a disastrous economic stewardship with three-digit annual inflation and the dead-end populist economics of buying dear and selling cheap to keep voters happy, encapsulated by this week’s petrol shortages, without even mentioning the corruption scandals doing nothing to derail the government’s first-round recovery. Milei’s denial of state terrorism in its full dimensions and his bizarre answer to isolationism of cutting off Brazil, China and the Vatican among others make him an impossible choice even for those who might not reject his extreme monetarism and belief that the market should enter every part of life outright.
Neutrality would thus seem the most logical reaction to such a choice but the more impossible these candidates appear because of the dangers they present, the less of an option the Pontius Pilate response of voting blank or not at all. This is the dilemma currently tearing the centre-right Juntos por el Cambio opposition coalition apart but it is not absent from the other half of the political spectrum either. As a result of the upset electoral outcome, that “centre-right” label has abruptly lost its hyphen with the two halves pulling apart. Macri would stake everything on his PRO hawks (PASO primary winners but knocked out of the run-off) teaming up with Milei to form a new right majority excluding his current coalition partners, who were not consulted ahead of his hasty decision. But the latter consider neutrality the logical response to a choice between corrupt populism and a far-right extremism on the fringes of a democracy celebrating its 40th year – accepting the opposition role assigned to them by the electorate rather than attempting to dictate votes which do not belong to them, they also see a political future in the middle ground (especially seeing how the obsessively centrist Córdoba Governor Juan Schiaretti almost doubled his PASO primary vote in the next round).
Yet the complexity goes beyond the difficult choice facing voters since even the result (with no guarantee against the surprises at every stage of this electoral process so far not continuing) is not the either/or proposition it might seem with the margin of victory a huge factor shaping the future. Were everybody not voting for either Massa or Milei to decide that both are unacceptable and vote blank or stay home (or use the long weekend to travel out of range), a projection of first-round voting would see Massa winning with a majority eclipsing Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s “going for everything” 54-percent landslide in 2011.
This would give fresh momentum to a Kirchnerism which started life with 22 percent of the vote 20 years ago and which can claim being the architects of last month’s electoral turnaround with nearly half the almost three million votes gained by Massa over his PASO total coming from their heartland of Buenos Aires Province (even if the economy minister’s lavish use of state funds to grease the political machinery made that result possible). While obviously a repugnant outcome for anti-Kirchnerite forces, this could also be too much of a good thing for Massa himself, frustrating his bid to reinvent Peronism in a more centrist, pro-market, pragmatic direction. A huge majority could also give Massa the mandate to finish off a Kirchnerism whose model has destroyed the currency they strive to defend against Milei’s dollarisation and incapable of producing a candidate in an electoral context where anything at all left (PASO hopeful Juan Grabois with 5.85 percent and FIT leftist presidential candidate Myriam Bregman with 2.7 percent) was shunned. The size of a majority yet to be confirmed could thus decide whether Massa ends Kirchnerism or cancels himself out.
Finally, there is the question of not only whether victory is possible but whether it is desirable. Are there grounds for optimism with the current rainfall promising a better harvest and an energy surplus gathering steam despite the petrol shortages? Or is it a good election to lose with the huge problems kicked down the road and the global loss of confidence? First the citizenry must define the winner and loser.