‘There is no future in Argentina’: Peronists face voter wrath in midterm elections – News Couple

‘There is no future in Argentina’: Peronists face voter wrath in midterm elections

Silvia Ramirez, a 62-year-old pensioner in Buenos Aires, has started working again because her pension “collapsed” due to inflation, but she is still struggling to cover even basic costs as prices continue to rise.

“There is no future in Argentina,” she said. “There is no future for those like me who want to retire completely, no future for young people.”

Ramirez plans to vote against the ruling Peronist party in Sunday’s midterm congressional elections, as part of a wave of public anger over the left-wing government’s handling of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic.

Opinion polls show the center-right opposition coalition leading by about 10 percentage points, a result that could cost Alberto Fernandez, the country’s president, Peronist, his majority in the Senate. Half of the seats in the House of Representatives are up for election, along with a third of the Senate.

A serious defeat in the midterm elections could turn Fernandez into a lame-duck leader for the rest of his term and put the opposition to restoring the presidency in 2023.

Fernandez imposed one of Latin America’s longest-running Covid-19 lockdowns, crushing the economy but failing to prevent a death toll as bad as in neighboring Brazil, when adjusted for population size.

Images of him breaking regulations by hosting a birthday party for his partner at the presidential residence at the height of the lockdown have angered Argentines. The delays in the procurement of vaccines and the scandal of bypassing the well-connected Peronists who jumped in line to get the punches made matters worse.

Juan Germano of Isonomía, a polling consultancy, said his latest poll showed Fernandez’s approval rating as low as 33 percent, with his more radical deputy, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, down 31 percent. “The country is in a very difficult situation,” he said. “Inflation is like a pressure cooker waiting to explode.”

In an effort to win over voters ahead of the election, the government ramped up welfare payments partially funded by printing money from the central bank and froze prices on more than 1,400 household products through January, including liqueur, vermouth and cat food.

Inflation hit 52.5 percent in the year to September, one of the highest in the world, and economists fear it could rise further next year. The government insists that its policies will put prices under control.

“We consider that inflation is under attack by consistent macroeconomic policies that allow Argentine net exports to grow in a sustainable manner and that monetary issuance can be reduced to a pace consistent with the country playing a countercyclical role to support the recovery,” Minister Martin Guzman told the Financial Times in an interview.

“We believe that price and income policies are a necessary component of an economy that solves macroeconomic coordination problems.”

But economists say such recipes have been tried and failed many times before.

Approval ratings for Argentina’s President, Alberto Fernandez, left, and Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner have fallen to nearly 30% © Juan Mabromata/AFP/Getty

“It is needless to say, in our view, that this policy is unlikely to rein in inflation,” Citibank said of the rate freeze. “We believe that the authorities’ announcement of price setting is evidence that their anti-inflation tools are running out.”

Argentine business leaders have voted with their feet. More than 20 notable figures, including oil billionaire Alejandro Bolgeroni and soybean king Gustavo Grupocopatel, live across the River Plate in neighboring Uruguay, where the economy is more stable and the tax system more friendly.

Argentina has been excluded from most external financing since it defaulted on its foreign debt for the ninth time last year. The government reached an agreement with private creditors to restructure $65 billion of debt in August last year, but hopes of a quick deal with the International Monetary Fund worth another $45 billion evaporated as the Peronists tightened their negotiating position.

Investors panicked and dollars are trading on the black market at nearly double the official rate as fears of devaluation grow, something Guzmán insisted would not happen.

One opposition politician hoping to harness popular discontent is Horacio Laretta, mayor of Buenos Aires. Re-elected in 2019, he has earned strong acceptance ratings as an effective city official. He is now aggressively campaigning on behalf of opposition congressional candidates, while polishing his credentials as a hopeful candidate in the 2023 presidential election.

After helping to unite the opposition, Laretta wants to transcend the political divide to save the economy. “The only way to fix the Argentine economy is to have a plan that is unanimously agreed upon and approved with a much broader support base,” he told the Financial Times.

The dire state of the country has also led to an increase in support for more extreme politicians. Javier Meli, a “dynamic capitalist anarchist,” is running for election as a congressman in Buenos Aires on a libertarian platform that includes abolition of the central bank, free love, and opposition to abortion.

His line that the central bank is a “criminal organization that hurts the poor” because of its massive cash flows may strike a chord with many Argentines worried about inflation. His admiration for Margaret Thatcher seems all the more serious in a country where memories of the Falklands War of 1982 still linger.

Amid economic chaos and political uncertainty, more people are choosing to emigrate. A recent study by consultancy Taquion Research found that eight in 10 Argentines of working age would leave the country if they could. Despite border restrictions with the coronavirus, 130,000 people left the country to work or study abroad in the first nine months of the year.

Buenos Aires resident Laura Ledesma, 33, is one of thousands who have chosen Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, as their destination. I made the decision to leave Argentina in June because “my salary was less every month”.

“Things are getting more difficult than they have to be in Argentina,” she told the Financial Times. “So I left.”

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