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Argentines, in shadow of economic crisis, vote in crunch midterms


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BUENOS AIRES — Argentines voted on Sunday in midterm elections that will establish the power balance in Congress, with the ruling Peronist party battling to avoid damaging losses that could erase its majority in the Senate held for almost 40 years.

The vote sees half the seats in the lower Chamber of Deputies up for grabs and a third in the Senate, with voters focused on rampant inflation running above 50% and high poverty levels arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know very few people who make enough money to get to the end of the month,” said Ricardo Arese, 69, a security guard in the capital Buenos Aires. His household expenses have risen 300% since 2016, he said, and he sees little reason for optimism.

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“We’re looking at a very tough two years ahead.”

Voting went smoothly under sunny skies in the Southern Hemisphere spring. Polls closed at 6 p.m. (2100 GMT), with some local media citing snap polls showing voting had gone similarly to a September open primary when the government lost badly.

The first official figures from a provisional count will come out around 9 p.m. local time.

“I’m here to vote with the hope that everything will change. We are tired,” said Mirta Laria, 62, a housewife in Buenos Aires. “Every day we are a bit worse off and the sad thing is that our children only see a way out for their life abroad.”

The Peronist coalition of left-leaning President Alberto Fernandez faces a trial by fire https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/argentinas-fernandez-faces-political-acid-test-midterm-vote-2021-11-12 as it looks to reverse the crushing defeat in the September primary, that if repeated could hobble the ruling party in the next two years.

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Most pollsters expect a damaging defeat https://www.reuters.com/business/valuing-argentinas-peso-it-could-cost-peronists-an-election-2021-11-09 for the government whose popularity has suffered due to COVID-19 lockdowns, spiraling inflation and a currency that is hitting record lows against the U.S. dollar despite strict capital controls.

“Fernandez would have to conduct the second half of his term with little political power, as a part of coalition full of internal grievances and with a pile of economic problems to fix, starting with inflation,” said Ignacio Labaqui, Argentina analyst at New York-based consultancy Medley Global Advisors.

‘PERONIST FAMILY’

The governing coalition holds 41 of the 72 seats in the Senate and makes up the largest bloc in the lower house. If Sunday goes badly, it risks losing its Senate majority and could be pegged back in the lower chamber.

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Focus will be on the lower-house result in densely populated Buenos Aires province, a Peronist stronghold where a defeat for Fernandez’s coalition would sting. There are key Senate races https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/argentinas-hinterland-where-cows-outnumber-people-could-tip-balance-congress-2021-11-11 in provinces such as La Pampa, Chubut and Santa Fe.

There are 127 seats in the Chamber of Deputies in play out of a total 257, and 24 Senate seats in eight provinces at stake.

A major defeat would weaken Fernandez as pressure builds to strike a new deal with the International Monetary Fund to roll over $45 billion in debt payments the grains-producing country cannot make. It could spark a cabinet reshuffle as the primary defeat did and split the government between moderates and radicals.

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Fernandez, after casting his vote, vowed to fight on regardless of the result, despite experts saying he would face a power struggle with the more radical wing of his party allied to influential Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

“Tonight we will hear what the people have said. Tomorrow… Argentina continues, with all the strength to keep governing and doing what we have to do so that the country is well,” he said.

Since the country’s 2001/02 economic meltdown, which threw millions of middle-class Argentines into poverty, many families have come to rely on social spending by Peronist governments.

One voter said she was sticking with the ruling party as she felt part of the “Peronist family.”

Another voter, Graciela Pacri, a 47-year-old housewife with four children, said state support was vital to surviving amid hard economic times.

“If it weren’t for a subsidy I have, I don’t know how I would live since it is difficult to find work,” she said.

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein and Nicolas Misculin; Additional reporting by Agustín Geist and Jorge Otaola; Editing by Adam Jourdan, Raissa Kasolowsky, Andrea Ricci and Daniel Wallis)

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