Argentines Reflect on Last Week’s Election Results, Market Shock

Patrick Gillespie

(Bloomberg) -- Investors are growing dire on Argentina after a shock election result, but some voters don’t buy the market’s concerns while others remain stunned by the crippling loss. Both ends of the spectrum are latching onto conspiracy theories about what’s gone wrong, and what’s next.

The peso tanked 17% this week and two ratings agencies downgraded Argentina after left-wing candidate Alberto Fernandez walloped President Mauricio Macri in a landslide primary election. Investors are concerned that Fernandez is now a virtual lock for October’s general election, marking an end to the pro-business Macri era.

Since the Aug. 11 vote, Argentines have been withdrawing dollars from banks and keeping them at home. The local stock market in South America’s second-biggest economy fell 48% in a day in dollar terms on Monday, the second-biggest rout for any market in the past 70 years. The yield on the nation’s century bonds spiked to an all-time high.

Analysts say Macri, who lost his primary election by 15 percentage points, has almost no chance of overcoming that margin in the official vote on Oct. 27. Back to the wall, Argentina’s leader is offering various short-term economic measures in a bid to regain support.

Economy Minister Nicolas Dujovne resigned Saturday, writing in a letter to Macri that “given the circumstances, the government you lead needs a significant renewal in the economic area.”

Hurtful Cuts

Liliana Diaz, 67, a doctor who lives in Buenos Aires, cast an enthusiastic vote for Fernandez. She said conditions at her state-funded institute for adults with disabilities deteriorated following Macri’s budget cuts.

Voters like Diaz are worried about rising economic uncertainty in upcoming months, and they blame Macri, not Fernandez, for the peso plunge.

“The government created this situation, it’s a self-inflicted situation” said Diaz. The currency sell-off “isn’t surprising, they kept the peso artificially low and the elections freed it.” She added that if helping poor Argentines “is populism, it’s welcome by me.”

Fernandez has promised to undo at least some of Macri’s market-driven reforms if elected, though hasn’t detailed his own economic policies.

Macri fueled more conspiracy theory talk when he said Monday after the sell-off, “this is just a sample of what’s going to happen.” The comment was construed as blaming voters for the market turmoil, and fed an opposition belief that he sought to punish Fernandez voters. Macri apologized on Wednesday.

“It was even worse that the president put the blame on people who have the right to vote,” said Sofia Gomez, 18, a ballerina at Argentina’s famed Teatro Colon. The teenager cast her first-ever vote for Fernandez, saying she’d seen too much economic pain under Macri’s leadership.

Fernandez “would be much better than what could happen with if the current president continues his term for four more years,” Gomez said.

As Fernandez voters refuted arguments that his surprise win was the source of the peso rout, Macri’s supporters struggled to pick up the pieces. A poorly attended rally for the president on Friday night underscored how much momentum he’s lost.

Claims of Fraud

Macri’s supporters turned to another theory for his weak showing: voter fraud. They reasoned that the last weekend’s outcome, so different from what pre-election opinion polls showed, must have been tainted.

“I was sad, really sad, because I couldn’t believe the difference in votes,” said Nuria Barberis, a 43-year-old from suburban Buenos Aires. “It seemed like a fraud to me.”

Barberis joined other dedicated Macri voters in a march toward the presidential palace Friday night to express support for the incumbent.

Mass gatherings routinely bring traffic to a standstill in Buenos Aires, yet buses zoomed by Friday as marchers only filled half of one of the city’s wide avenues and hardly occupied a historic square. Some blamed the mediocre attendance on a holiday weekend; others said it res a result of poor planning. Whatever the reason, hope hung by a thread for a Macri comeback.

I’m Outta Here

“It looks really hard to me. I don’t want to dream, but the only thing left for me is to come to marches like this,” said Ezequiel Ciriacos, a 23-year-old studying aeronautical engineering. “If he doesn’t win, I suppose I’ll leave the country. Anyone who can leave the country will leave.”

Macri’s rolled out a slew of temporary economic measures this week in a last-ditch effort to appease voters. Daniel Lamagne, an unemployed textile worker, said the stopgap measures -- planned to expire at year-end -- rang hollow to him.

“Like the cheese in front of a mouse, and then it’s taken away,” said Lamagne, 54, a widower with two children. Macri “should have done all this when he first took office to captivate us a little bit in order to win over the public.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Gillespie in Buenos Aires at pgillespie29@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Juan Pablo Spinetto at jspinetto@bloomberg.net, Ros Krasny, Linus Chua

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