Argentines go to the polls this Sunday (22) without being able to predict tomorrow. “I have no idea what will happen on Monday but I know we will be worse, not better”, says trader Juan González, 52, while marking up the prices of alfajores in one of Buenos Aires’ typical “kioscos”.
The climate in the neighboring country is one of deep uncertainty in the face of an election that may or may not drastically change the daily lives of the population. The election takes place after months of anxious waiting, seeing the dollar and prices rise, while the government tries to hold its own until it is decided who will be president from December 10th, in place of the absent Alberto Fernández.
There are three main possibilities considered, always predicting an advantage for the ultra-liberal Javier Milei, who turns 53 this Saturday (21). The candidate with the most votes in the August primaries, his central promises are to exchange pesos for dollars, end the Central Bank and drastically reduce the State in a country accustomed to subsidies for 20 years.
One of the expectations, based on the polls carried out until last week, is that he will go to a second round on November 19th with the current Minister of Economy, Sergio Massa, 51. The government and Peronist candidate has the feat of still being among the favorites even managing successive currency runs and inflation of 138% per year, one of the highest in the world.
Considering, however, the level of novelty and uncertainty of these elections in the country —which until the emergence of Milei was marked by polarization—, Macrista Patricia Bullrich, 67, still has a chance. If she manages to defeat Massa, it will be the first time in four decades of democracy that Peronism does not reach a second round or win in the first.
This will also happen if the third possibility is confirmed and Milei wins in the first round, as his supporters have started chanting during campaign events in recent weeks. To do this, he needs to reach 45% of the valid votes, or 40% and 10 percentage points difference for second place. In the primaries, he reached 30%.
For Brazil, which has Argentina as its third largest trading partner, a close relationship with Lula is at stake, although it is unlikely that Milei will completely cut ties with its main importer and exporter. The ultraliberal team defends reviewing Mercosur and opposes entry into Brics, but says that the private sector can “trade with whoever it wants”. Fernando Haddad admitted that he is worried.
For Argentines, the main concerns are inflation, for a year and a half first, and then violence. The country is going through its third major economic crisis recently, with an insistent fiscal deficit, high external debt, a currency with no credibility and a lack of dollars in public coffers, which adds to the ranks of poverty.
Now, we don’t know what will happen to the dollar, and consequently to prices, from this Monday onwards, which is why daily life has been divided into “before the elections” and “after the elections” in recent times.
Those who could paid in advance for more expensive goods and rushed to acquire American currency in banks, in the financial market or in parallel exchange offices — many stopped sales in recent days, threatened by government controls and saving their banknotes for a possible explosion currency after the election.
Those who couldn’t often had to reduce their consumption, suffocated by the increase in prices driven by Milei’s victory and Massa’s measures since the primaries. Faced with uncertainty, imports are stopped at ports, and some sellers decided to hold on to their durable products.
Companies also brought forward salaries and 13th salary, to get rid of burdens and allow employees to do the same. “My boss called us this Thursday  and said he would pay us half of November’s salary. They announced it as a positive measure, but it’s not, it’s not normal”, says lawyer Sofía, 28, who did not want her surname disclosed.
The run for the dollar is a common movement in Argentina before elections, but this time it has intensified in the face of a candidate with proposals whose effects are unpredictable.
So far, analysts say, possible social chaos has been contained by a low unemployment rate, consumption and economic activity that are not doing badly — despite beginning to show signs of exhaustion — and by the current government’s historical connection with the majority of unions and social movements.
There is fear, however, that the situation will get out of control in some way depending on what happens at the polls and after a new government takes over, as was attempted after the primaries. That week, the dollar exploded, many sales stopped and a wave of looting hit supermarkets and small businesses, being contained within a few days.
In the final stretch, Massa used strong restrictions to try to contain the dollar and not harm his candidacy. Despite being the face of an economy in crisis and part of a government disapproved by eight out of ten Argentines, the economist and former deputy is seen as viable because he is not a traditional Peronist and is more in the center.
Milei, on the other hand, tried to reinforce his “anti-caste” and anti-corruption speech, his “chainsaw plan” against public spending and its dollarization, which awakens both protest and hope among voters. With a career built in the academic world, the economist also gained fame by shouting his radical opinions on TV programs, which catapulted him to deputy and then presidential candidate in 2021.
Bullrich, in turn, pivoted to the center after the primary scare, calling on his internal rival Horacio Larreta to be part of the team. He stopped giving so much emphasis to his hard-line side in security, a ministry he commanded under Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), reversed roles and started to present himself as a third way to Peronism and the “crazy” Milei.
She holds in her hands the future of Argentina’s hitherto main opposition force, which depending on this Sunday’s results could survive or sink into irrelevance. No hypothesis is ruled out.