© Reuters. File photo: Argentine presidential candidate Sergio Massa during a press conference a day after the first round of Argentina’s presidential election in Buenos Aires, Argentina on October 23, 2023. Reuters/Christina Sill
by Nicholas Miskulin
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s Peronist Economy Minister Sergio Massa is set to pull off a political miracle: win the presidential election despite the country’s worst economic crisis in decades and inflation nearing 150%.
The 51-year-old political wheeler-dealer unexpectedly finished first in the South American country’s first round of voting in October and is in a tight race with liberal rival Xavier Miley ahead of Sunday’s race, which was unthinkable just months ago. Earlier when the government looked dead and suppressed.
Lawyer, a moderate who is trying to revive and reshape the Peronists from the ashes of the crisis, has been on a thorough charm offensive to woo voters with tax cuts and promising a unity government. Is.
“He is a tireless worker with everyone he interacts with,” said Malena Galmarini, president of the state water utility ISA, a Peronist activist and Massa’s wife.
“He knows the state like few others and that is why he is the most qualified to rule a new stage for Argentina.”
However, Massa has a bigger burden. Nearly 40% of the population is in poverty, a $44 billion program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is in tatters and a recession looms.
Massa, economy minister since last year, has also been unable to control inflation – now at its highest level since 1991, and still rising – but he has criticized the Peronists’ track record of protecting welfare payments and subsidies. That keeps utilities and transportation costs down, while warning: prices could rise further under Miley.
That strategy helped him come out on top in the first round in October by nearly seven points, beating pollsters’ predictions, and could help him again on Sunday despite Miley receiving the support of some key conservative supporters.
Graciela Roldan, 40, an administrative worker in Buenos Aires, said she would vote for Massa and that he offered “protection from an evil creature that is threatening our rights”.
She added, “If he manages to position himself as a defender of the people and the middle class, as he is doing with his latest measures, he could be an icon and Peronist leader in the pursuit of social equality.” Are.”
Massa’s greatest victory to date has been uniting a Peronist coalition that was on the verge of collapse, as supporters of liberal President Alberto Fernández fought with the left wing around powerful Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
He received the support of the full coalition, but distanced himself from the unpopular Fernandez and two-time divisive leader Kirchner and promised to offer something new to angry voters.
Electoral Observatory analyst Julio Birdman said, “Massa is the least Peronist of the Peronists.” He said his “flexibility” was his greatest strength in winning the moderate vote.
Massa’s critics argue that he is a “pancake” – one who can be easily overturned.
A career politician, Massa was earlier chief of staff in the Kirchner tenure, but then clashed with him and left to establish his own political party. He later returned to Peronism, although his back-and-forth led some in the movement to distrust him.
Argentina’s Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero told Reuters that Massa would establish his own style of leadership if elected, and for now he has put together a coalition to face the election.
Economy on the verge of collapse
The son of Italian immigrants, Massa attended a Catholic school in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, where he became active in Peronism after spending time in a conservative political party.
He was elected as a provincial deputy when he was only 27, before moving on to roles including mayor of Tigre, an important suburb north of Buenos Aires.
Those who know him highlight his ability to achieve consensus.
A consultant who has worked with him said, “He’s a guy who works a lot on relationships. He doesn’t just talk to his own people, but also talks to people who think differently, he’s practical.” Let’s talk to the entire opposition formally.” Decades and asked to remain anonymous.
Agustín Rossi, who is running for vice president on Massa’s ticket, previously told Reuters that Massa had shown courage by playing up the economy and “steering the ship” in very difficult times. “In Peronism, not running away from difficulties is given utmost importance,” he said.
Still, the economic malaise could hurt them in the elections – and beyond, if they win.
“The economy is on the brink of collapse,” said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America program. “The allure of warts is no match for hyperinflation.”
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