Argentina begins voting in litmus test for Peronist

Argentines vote in primary legislative elections, in Buenos Aires
Voting in the primary legislative elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina
People queue outside a polling station before casting their vote during the primary legislative elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina September 12, 2021. Reuters/Augustin Markarian

September 12, 2021

By Nicolas Miskulin and George Otaolas

Buenos Aires (Reuters) – Argentina lined up to vote in the mid-term primary on Sunday, which represents a litmus test for President Alberto Fernández’s centre-left Peronist government as the COVID-19 pandemic and rising poverty decimated its The popularity has waned.

Polling stations around the South American nation will open at 8 a.m. (1100 GMT) and close at 6 p.m. Exit polls will take place at around 11 p.m. before official results are out. Pollsters expect the ruling party to suffer some damage.

With the majority of the candidates already determined, the vote is a huge straw poll ahead of the November 14 midterm ballot, where 127 seats in the lower Chamber of Deputies out of a total of 257, plus 24 seats. Out of 72 in the Senate.

“The balance of power can be redefined,” said Shila Wilker, director of pollster TrepuntoZero, as the main conservative opposition party Together for Change was knocking on the door. “The president needs to put up a good show.”

The pre-election polls show a threat to the ruling party’s majority in the Senate and its hold on the largest bloc in the lower house, with a slim lead of some five seats over the main opposition party.

Many voters feel disappointed by the main political parties. Despite recent signs of economic recovery and falling coronavirus cases, a protracted recession, rampant inflation and a poverty rate rising to 42% have hurt public support for the government.

“There is a lot of discontent among the people,” Patricia Coscarello, 52, administrative worker outside Buenos Aires, said after the vote. “Apart from the pandemic, the economic situation is complicated and wages are going down.”

Vaccine Roll-out

President Fernandez may point to a vaccine roll-out that has now reached more than 46 million jabs for a similar-sized population, thanks to a drop in daily COVID-19 cases and the economy’s recovery from the slowdown earlier this year. After a sharp decline in 2020.

“While there are many things to improve, the choice that ruled earlier (Together for Change) spoiled everything,” said 60-year-old Griselda Picone, a housewife in the capital. She was voting for the ruling party despite the concerns.

“It seems to me that the handling of the economy has been really good during the pandemic.”

The country’s weak financial markets, which collapsed after the 2019 presidential primary, showed that Fernandez’s landslide victory in that year’s election could escalate if Sunday’s vote goes against the ruling party.

The argument is that a stronger opposition would anger the more militant wing of the Peronists. They have at times clashed with investors, the powerful agriculture sector and the International Monetary Fund, which is negotiating a loan agreement with the government.

Lawyer Ana Pertusati, 36, and others were pessimistic about the prospects for reform.

“When you ask around, most people don’t even know the main candidates,” she said while waiting in line to vote. “It seems that whoever wins, it may be of little use for people to make real positive change.”

(Reporting by Nicholas Miscullin and George Otaola; Additional reporting by Agustin Geist; Editing by Adam Jordan and Cynthia Osterman)

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