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Argentina’s Presidential Election: Analyzing Why did Populist Melei fail to finish at the top?

Amid Economic crisis, Argentina conducted their 'First round' of Presidential elections on Sunday 22nd October. Given the increasing poverty, an impending recession, and an annual inflation rate exceeding 120% in Argentina, it was anticipated that voters, after being dissatisfied from the current government, were eager for change in the upcoming presidential election.They were considering the chance of electing a right-wing populist candidate Javier Milei,who has shaken up the political scene and is advocating for extensive changes to revive Argentina's struggling economy.


In a surprising turn of events, the eccentric far-right populist, Javier Milei, did not secure victory in the first round of Argentina's presidential election. Instead, the centrist finance minister, Sergio Massa, unexpectedly emerged as the winner, defeating his radical challenger.



Javier Milei - Populist Political Newcomer


Javier Milei, a self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist and a political newcomer who admires Donald Trump, made a big impact in Argentina by getting the most votes in the August primaries, thus making a notable impact on Argentina's political realm, which had been controlled by a combination of centre-left and centre-right forces for nearly twenty years.


He gained initial recognition for criticising what he calls the "political elite" on TV, and his ideas resonated with the Argentines dealing with money problems caused by very high yearly inflation and the decreasing value of their money.  Milei has openly criticised what he sees as the excessive focus on political correctness. He believes that in today's world, if you don't embrace the popular ideas of socialism or "wokeness," you might be labelled as aggressive and a danger to democracy. 


Populist due to his 'New' reforms approach


He is an unconventional economist, who wants to bring big reforms like cutting how much the government spends, getting rid of some government departments, getting rid of the central bank, and using the U.S. dollar as Argentina's money. Milei's plan also involves changing Argentine culture, and he presents himself as someone fighting against what he considers harmful influences in society. He also pledged to get rid of Argentina's central bank and move the country away from its important trading partners, China and Brazil.


His argument is based on the idea that Argentina's interventionist and welfare-oriented economic model has not been effective. Mr. Milei is a follower of the free-market proponent Milton Friedman and thinks that inflation happens due to too much circulation of Argentina's currency, the peso. His suggested solution includes shrinking the government and adopting the U.S. dollar as the national currency.


Milei has made strong commitments to drastically transform the economic situation by supporting the privatisation of many government-owned businesses. This stance has garnered substantial support from voters who are tired of years of economic mismanagement. 


Populist for being 'Anti-Establishment' Candidate 


Milei depicted his two primary opponents as part of the enduring and corrupt establishment that had contributed to the decline of South America's second-largest economy. This message resonated with many Argentines who had seen their economic prospects dwindle during the terms in which both Massa and Bullrich had held positions.


Some speculate that the frustrated voters suffering from high inflation and poverty find the established government responsible for their sufferings. Voters find Milei as the only candidate who can aid Argentina in recovering from a deep crisis. Milei prominently featured a chainsaw in his campaign as a symbol of his plan to cut spending and disrupt the existing political system.


But Why didn't Melei came first in the election?


The reason why after being a Populist, he failed to secure a victory in the 'First round' of the election is his 'Controversial views'. Miley has vehemently condemned what he calls the "socialist agenda." He is against sex education, feminist policies, and abortion, even though abortion is legal in Argentina. He also rejects the idea of social justice as "an aberration" and denies that humans have contributed to climate change and view it as a 'Socialist lie.' His language has included elements of misogyny and controversial statements to grab attention. 


Mr. Milei is also seen as a potential threat to democracy by many. His ardent supporters use the yellow Gadsden flag, often associated with the extreme right in the United States. His choice for vice president has controversially framed Argentina's past dictatorship's systematic extrajudicial killings as counter-terrorism efforts. 


Milei's opponents Massa and Bullrich in the last day of campaigns heavily focused on warning voters against selecting Milei, painting him as an uncertain newcomer. Massa stressed that Milei's ideas could lead to serious impacts on social welfare programs, education, and healthcare. Importantly, the ministries responsible for health, education, and social development are among those that Milei plans to do away with.


Some voters are becoming more aware of the impracticality of Mr. Milei's plans, which has led to him reconsidering certain positions. Some voters speculate that  It was only a matter of time before people realised that Milei's ideas didn't make sense and they can't jeopardise their education or public health." 

A poster campaign organised by Massa sought to alert the public about Milei's most extreme ideas, including the legalisation of human organ sales, and indicated that his policies might steer Argentina into a major economic crisis, akin to the one in 2001. Some posters even cited "The Economist '' as saying that Milei poses a threat to Argentine democracy and asked voters if they were truly contemplating voting for him.


Ultimately, Voters were still uneasy about Milei's proposed changes, which include dollarization and the elimination of Argentina's central bank. Massa's pre-election efforts to improve purchasing power also seem to have resonated with voters.



How did Sergio Massa finish at the top?


Sergio Massa is a centre-left government that has been in power since 2019 , he is the current Economy Minister of Argentina, in the times when the country is suffering the worst economic crisis in decades with a high rate of inflation, making voters frustrated with the current government. He has blamed the issues on a severe drought that negatively impacted the nation's export industry. He somehow managed a victory over Populist leader Milei in the first round of the general election of Argentina held on Sunday.


Primarily, Massa has been successful at capitalising on scepticism among voters regarding Milei's extreme economic plans, meant to fix the struggling economy. Many speculate that these plans might make things even worse for the millions of people who rely heavily on government  


Furthermore, Massa's success was mainly due to his introduction of tax reductions. He recently expanded income tax exemptions to all workers, which gained popularity but strained state funds, affecting the fiscal goals agreed upon with the primary creditor, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


Next, he addressed voter worries about increasing bus fares. In the week leading up to the election, Massa introduced the lower "Massa price" for train and bus fares, opposed to the other prices with significantly higher rates without subsidies, as proposed by his opponents.


In his speech, Massa pledged to establish a national unity government that would lead "a new era in Argentina's political history." He provided reassurance to his supporters that as a President he will never disappoint the voters and showed  commitment towards improving the situation of the country as he said "The worst is over."


However, Some voters doubt the ruling party and Sergio Massa, who is responsible for the nation's present economic difficulties that include various exchange rates, increasing debt, and the imminent risk of a recession. Other voter mentioned how Massa was the 'least' worst option, that is why he was made to the top.


Moreover, Mr. Massa after accepting funding from the IMF, is not entirely adhering to the IMF'S requirements. Rather than reducing government expenditures, he has raised them, making the situation worse, IMF and significant stakeholders now have to ensure that he upholds his commitments before providing additional financial support to Argentina.

But to no surprise, it will be very early to doubt the calibre of Melei. The result has now paved a way for another month of considerable uncertainty, economic instability, and the dissemination of misinformation leading up to the contest between Massa and Milei. Also, Massa's win is not assured, as many right-wing voters who previously supported Bullrich may decide to switch their support to Milei.

However, The chances of Massa to win the second round as well is probably high as Massa's commitment to forming a unity government might present a way forward, and is expected to gain that support, even though, at this point, it might be perceived as a tactic to secure the support of dissatisfied conservative voters.


Moreover, If Milei wins on November 19, he will have to deal with a Congress that is divided, and the Peronist party is prepared to resist his plans, especially from Buenos Aires, where they won big on Sunday. This might make it tough for him to make big changes. On the other hand, Massa is currently in charge of Argentina's economy, which is facing a difficult situation with a recession and high inflation. Hoping for much better economic results if he wins in the second round might be too hopeful right now.

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