Argentine economy minister has surprise win over populist

 Economy Minister Sergio Massa produced a big surprise by finishing first in the opening round of Argentina's presidential election, reflecting voters' wariness about handing the presidency to his chief rival, a right-wing populist who upended national politics and pledged to drastically diminish the state.

Massa's victory over Javier Milei, a chainsaw-wielding economist and freshman lawmaker, came despite the fact that on his watch inflation has surged into triple digits, eating away at purchasing power of salaries and boosting poverty. Still, he wasn't punished in Sunday's voting.

With nearly all balots counted early Monday, Massa had 36.7% of the vote and Milei had 30%, meaning the two will go to a Nov. 19 runoff. Most pre-election polls, which have been notoriously unreliable, had given Milei a slight lead over Massa. Former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, of the main center-right opposition coalition, got 23.8% to finish third in the field of five candidates.

Massa has been a leading figure in the center-left administration in power since 2019. He successfully focused messaging on the way Milei's proposals to slash the size of the state — from halving the number of government ministries to deep spending cuts — would affect everyday life for Argentines, said Mariel Fornoni of the political consulting firm Management & Fit.

That "had a significant impact and evidently instilled more fear than anything else," Fornoni said.

Andrei Roman, CEO of Brazil-based pollster Atlas Intel, whose latest survey had been one of few putting Massa ahead, said one key to the result was lower abstention than in the primary elections held in August. Around 78% of the electorate voted Sunday, some eight points higher than in the primaries that...

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