Argentina’s Macri bashed as voters back predecessor’s ticket

Mauricio Macri - Argentina
Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who is running for reelection, pauses during a press conference at the government house the day after primary elections in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Macri was snubbed by voters who appeared to hand a resounding primary victory to a populist ticket with his predecessor, Cristina Fernández. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentine stocks and currency plummeted Monday after Argentine President Mauricio Macri was snubbed by voters who appeared to hand a resounding primary victory to a populist ticket with his predecessor, Cristina Fernández.

The preliminary results from Sunday’s voting suggest the conservative Macri will face an uphill battle going into general elections in October and gives the populists who governed Argentina for most of the past two decades a strong chance of returning to power.

The result stunned financial markets.

About a third of the Argentinian companies that trade in U.S. markets lost half of their value Monday, but losses were extreme across the board.

With 88% of polling stations tallied early Monday, official results gave the presidential slate headed by Alberto Fernández and his vice presidential running mate, Cristina Fernández, about 47% of the votes in a primary vote featuring 10 candidates. Macri and his running mate, Miguel Ángel Pichetto, had 32% — a wide margin that revealed the considerable depth of Macri’s weakness, potentially positioning the Fernández team to win in the first round of a general election voting on Oct. 27.

To be elected president in the first round, candidates need to finish with at least 45% of the votes or have 40% and a greater than 10-point advantage over the nearest rival. If no candidate wins outright in October, there will be a November runoff.

The election functioned largely as a poll for the October vote. All of the parties already had their candidates chosen and the only practical result was to eliminate a few minor parties that got less than 1.5% of the overall votes from upcoming general election.

The pro-business Macri has the support of financial markets and Washington, but has lost popularity amid a deep economic crisis that drove the inflation rate to nearly 50% last year and slashed Argentines’ purchasing power. He says he is taking the necessary, painful steps to get the economy going after 12 years of leftist populism under Cristina Fernández and her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner.

But the electorate issued a resounding rejection of his handling of the economic situation — and a recent lending package from the International Monetary Fund that totaled upward of $55 billion. Most Argentines blame the IMF for encouraging policies that led to the country’s worst economic crisis in 2001, which resulted in one of every five Argentines being unemployed and millions sliding into poverty.

“It’s clear that Macri’s weakest point is the management of the economy, despite the fact that it has improved in the last three months,” said Mariel Fornoni, director of the political consultancy Management & Fit.

The possibility that Cristina Fernández could return to power stunned markets.

Matías Carugati, chief economist for Management & Fit, said the victory of the Fernández team would put “sustained” pressure on the exchange rate and stocks due to the prospect that the South American’s recent free, less state-interventionist course could be reversed.

“This is an election where Argentina has to determine whether it continues on a path of transformation, of deepening democracy, of insertion into the world, of improvement and development — or returns to an authoritarian populist model that has failed in all places where it has been implemented,” he said.