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Argentina faces a polarized runoff after a surprising election result

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Argentina’s presidential election on Sunday ended with no clear winner, as the leftist economy minister Sergio Massa and the far-right populist Javier Milei both failed to secure more than 45% of the votes, the threshold to be elected. The two candidates will now face each other in a runoff vote on November 19, in what is expected to be a highly contested and divisive race.

Massa, who represents the governing Peronist coalition, defied polls and placed first with 38.7% of the votes, according to the official count with 98% of ballots tallied. He was followed by Milei, who leads the Liberty Advances party, with 32.4%. Patricia Bullrich, a former security minister and the candidate from the center-right Together for Change coalition, came in third with 18.5%.

Massa, a pragmatic centrist, has been criticized by the left for cuts in social spending, while conservatives say he is not doing enough to reduce the fiscal deficit. He has also faced internal divisions within his coalition, as some factions have challenged his leadership and accused him of being too soft on corruption. Massa has pledged to continue the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to restructure Argentina’s $45 billion debt, and to implement policies to boost growth and reduce inflation, which reached 138% in September.

Milei, an eccentric figure who sports messy hair and leather jackets, has gained popularity among young and disillusioned voters who are fed up with the traditional political parties and the economic crisis. Milei identifies as an “anarcho-capitalist” and has garnered comparisons to far-right leaders like Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. He owns multiple clones of his late dog Conan. Milei’s radical economic policies include abolishing Argentina’s central bank and ditching the Argentine peso in favor of the US dollar, as smaller countries like Ecuador and El Salvador have done. He has also vowed to end all negotiations with the IMF and default on Argentina’s debt.

The election results reflect the deep polarization and dissatisfaction that exist in Argentina, a country that has been struggling with chronic economic problems, social unrest and political scandals for decades. The runoff vote will likely be influenced by factors such as voter turnout, which was unusually high at 74% on Sunday; the endorsement or rejection of the third-place candidate Bullrich; and the performance of the candidates in the upcoming debates.

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