Argentines vote in a primary election that will gauge the yearning for change amid economic turmoil

Argentines vote in a primary election that will gauge the yearning for change amid economic turmoil

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentines were voting Sunday in a primary election that will act as a bellwether ahead of October general elections and give a hint at how eager citizens are for a change in a country that is suffering one of the world’s worst inflation rates.

The primary will determine who will be the presidential candidate in the main center-right opposition coalition in which Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta is facing off against former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich.

Whoever comes out on top will almost certainly be running against Economy Minister Sergio Massa, who is facing a leftist challenger to become the candidate of the ruling coalition. Center-left President Alberto Fernández decided not to run for reelection as he suffers from rock-bottom approval ratings amid annual inflation of more than 100%, rising poverty and a rapidly depreciating currency.

The primary will also finally give a firm answer on how much traction upstart right-wing populist candidate Javier Milei has gained with voters. An admirer of former U.S. President Donald Trump, Milei has attracted voters with an anti-establishment message that has particularly resonated with the young.

There were delays in the voting in some polling locations in the capital amid difficulties in the use of new electronic voting machines that were used to select candidates for mayor and other local positions. A judge in charge of the electoral process criticized what she characterized as the “degree of improvisation” and said the voting time could be extended as a result.

In the run-up to Sunday’s vote, the campaign had been largely dominated by the sometimes-bitter contest between Bullrich and Larreta. Pollsters say the winner of this race will have a strong chance of becoming president amid general anger at the government due to the country’s economic malaise.

PHOTOS: Argentines vote in a primary election that will gauge the yearning for change amid economic turmoil

Asked about what the pre-primary discussions could mean for the coalition, Larreta assured journalists there would be unity after Sunday’s vote. “Always together,” Larreta said. “Yesterday, today, tomorrow, always together.”

Former President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), a leader in the main opposition coalition, called on Argentines to cast their ballot Sunday “to leave behind an era that has brought us so much harm and sadness.”

The primaries are taking place with an undercurrent of concern over how the vote could impact the economy. Four years ago, an unexpectedly strong showing by now-President Fernández led to a sharp depreciation of the currency as markets saw the primary results indicating that business-friendly Macri was on his way out.

After casting his ballot Sunday, Massa told journalists the Economy Ministry had been working on the issue.

“On Friday, from noon until the afternoon, and yesterday, back at the Economy Ministry, we worked with the team so that the week and the markets, in some way, do not influence people’s everyday lives,” Massa said.

Once results start coming in, particular attention will be paid for signs that the main center-right opposition could win the presidential election outright and avoid a second round runoff in November.

After casting his ballot, Fernández made clear he expects the presidential race won’t be over quickly.

“We have started an electoral process that will likely conclude in November,” Fernández, who has been largely absent from the campaign, said. His vice president, Cristina Fernández, who was the country’s president from 2007 to 2015, has also kept a low profile during the campaign so far.

The discussions in the run-up to Sunday’s vote were largely dominated by the economy, but crime suddenly took center stage in the final days of campaigning after the killing of an 11-year-old girl during a snatch-and-grab robbery in a Buenos Aires suburb Wednesday. There also was outrage in Buenos Aires following the death of a leftist political activist, who suffered a heart attack while being detained by police during a protest Thursday.

Many in Buenos Aires expressed anger at politicians and said they had little faith things would change.

“Whoever rises, things will remain the same,” said Jennifer Marín, a retail worker.

Political leaders pushed the citizenry to cast a ballot amid concerns participation could be lower than normal amid a lack of enthusiasm. Although voting is mandatory, the fine for failing to cast a ballot is largely symbolic. Recent national elections have seen a participation rate of around 70%.

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