Argentines vote in primary as triple-digit inflation sparks anger

BUENOS AIRES, Aug 13 (Reuters) – Argentina holds primary elections on Sunday as voters hope to punish the ruling centre-left Peronist coalition for inflation, which is running at 116% and a cost-of-living crisis left behind. Four out of 10 people live in poverty.

The primaries are mandatory for most adults, and each person gets one vote, turning it into a giant dress rehearsal for the general election in October, giving a clear indication of who will be the favorite to win the presidency.

It is key to talks on policy and a $44 billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund, affecting Argentina’s largest farm sector of soy, corn and beef, the peso currency and one of the world’s leading exporters of bonds.

The economic crisis has left many Argentinians disenchanted with the main political parties, the Peronist coalition and the conservative opposition Together for Change and Together for Light Libertarian.

“This is another opportunity to change things. Inflation is killing us and the uncertainty of work doesn’t allow you to plan your life,” said 42-year-old housewife Adriana Alonso, who went to vote after polling at 8 p.m. morning (1100 GMT).

Polling stations will close at 6pm local time, with the first results expected around three hours later.

Others plan to vote against fringe parties or none at all, a trend that could play against moderate presidential candidates in the race, including center-right Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Lauretta and Economy Minister Sergio Massa. The biggest hope of the Peronist coalition.

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“I’m thinking about leaving my ballot blank,” said Micaela Pancera, 22, who works at a food company in Buenos Aires. “No candidate believes me.”

There were long and sometimes chaotic queues to vote on Sunday, with some complaining of delays in casting their ballots and flaws in the voting system.

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A difficult election to predict

The most important leadership race is in the Together for Change coalition between Lauretta and former Defense Secretary Patricia Bullrich. Both promise greater austerity and freer markets.

One unpredictable factor was libertarian economist Javier Millay, who won over a fifth of the vote in opinion polls and won over voters with a bold, no-nonsense style. He wants to dollarize the economy and close the central bank.

“A strong performance by the libertarian candidate could surprise and point to a three-candidate race in October,” investment bank Goldman Sachs ( GS.N ) said in a note.

Pollsters expect turnout to be low, even if non-voters are fined.

“Expect high turnout, maybe even more empty votes. We’ve seen warning signs of this in the provincial elections so far,” political analyst Carlos Fara said.

“The hardest element to predict is Miley’s performance because she’s a phenomenon outside the political norm.”

Pollsters see the United Opposition candidates for Change just ahead of the Peronist bloc, with Millay pulling close to 20%. However, many agree that this is a difficult match to predict. Early 2019 polls proved to be very wrong.

Whoever wins in October or November will make big decisions on how to rebuild depleted foreign reserves, increase grain exports, control inflation and remove currency controls.

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Jorge Pologo, 58, a businessman, said Argentina needed a “path to the future” but neither party had presented a clear path.

Maria Fernanda Medina, a 47-year-old teacher, said that after years of spiraling economic crises, she had also lost hope that politicians could really bring about change.

“I don’t have much hope because every election I feel a little disappointed,” he said as he cast his vote in Tigre, a suburb of Buenos Aires. “But hey, we can’t lose all hope, can we?”

Reporting by Nicholas Miskul; Additional reporting by Candelaria Grimberg, Walter Bianchi, Lucilla Sigal; Editing by Adam Jordan, Paul Simao and Chris Reese

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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