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King’s Votes: Argentina Votes for a New President in an Unprecedented Election

Staff writer Isabel Cancian examines the outcome of round one of Argentina’s presidential election and seeks to shed light on the potential overall result.

On October 22, Argentines took to the polls to choose the next president, along with representatives and senators for the National Congress. This election was crucial given the economic and political context in which it took place. With over 10% monthly inflation and a steadily devalued currency, Argentine real wages are highly affected. Moreover, multiple political scandals have plagued the current presidency, with COVID-19 parties and politicians vacationing in Europe in super-yachts while the economy crumbles. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the 1983 elections that signalled the return of democracy, after the collapse of the Military Dictatorship (1976-1983).

Current president Alberto Fernandez won the presidency in 2019 and has not run for re-election. In the last election, he ran as part of the coalition Frente de Todos, which was later renamed to Unión Por la Patria, and is based basically on the Justicialist (Peronist) Party. Fernandez’s presidency has been rocky, characterised by the COVID-19 pandemic and harsh quarantine measures, nationwide protests and historic economic decline. What is more, the first instance of judicial ruling for corruption charges against Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took place. The current Vice President, and former President (2008-2015), was sentenced to six years in prison in a one billion dollar fraud case. While she will not serve any prison time given the immunity she receives for being in public office, it was the first time Kirchner was convinced despite being sentenced for multiple corruption charges. As a consequence, Mr. Fernández is quietly leaving politics with not only unpopularity among citizens but also within his own party. 

The Candidates

Sergio Massa 

  • Current Role: Minister of Economy 
  • Political Coalition: Unión por la Patria (UxP)
  • Political Ideology: centre-left, Justicialist/Peronist (versatile historical ideology usually directed by protectionism, economic nationalism, and personalism). 

Sergio Massa’s candidature has been shaped by his multiple roles in public office throughout the years, most recently as Minister of Economy since last year. While his trajectory has gained him support to an extent, it has mainly called into question his competence. For the last year, Argentina’s inflation has been soaring, and the currency, the Argentine Peso, has plummeted. As a consequence, poverty rates are also steadily increasing and have reached 40% in 2023. What is more, his loyalties within the party have shifted multiple times making him untrustworthy to voters and fellow party members. In an election scenario, it might seem as if Massa would not be received with strong support. Nevertheless, in all elections, Peronism has counted with a loyal 30% electoral base which should be counted on even in this extreme context. 

Javier Milei 

  • Current Role: Member of the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina (National Congress)
  • Political Party: La Libertad Avanza (LLA)
  • Political Ideology: right-wing libertarian; defines himself as an anarcho-capitalist and Austrian School follower. 

In August, Javier Milei surprised the country and the world by taking the lead in the primaries having harnessed over 30% of the votes. International media has compared him to Trump, and Jair Bolsonaro, both of whom Milei has expressed admiration for. Milei’s policies are radical, and completely opposite to Argentina’s more egalitarian traditional public opinion and policies. One of his most extreme yet popular proposals is the dollarisation of the economy, which involves using the US dollar along with the domestic currency, and the elimination of the Central Bank. Moreover, he seeks to cut public expenditure by 15% of GDP by eliminating most ministries, public investment in infrastructure and re-designing the public healthcare and education system. Milei’s more conservative side shines through in his promise to reverse the legalisation of abortion and discard the Integral Sexual Education (ESI) curriculum compulsory at schools.

Overall, his candidature has been characterised by multiple controversies over his extreme remarks and stances. However, he is widely popular in the country, especially among young men. 

Patricia Bullrich

  • Current Role: former Minister of Security (2015-2019)
  • Political Coalition: Juntos por el Cambio (JxC), mainly based in Propuesta Republicana (PRO) and Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) plus minor parties.
  • Political ideology: centre-right. 

Patricia Bullrich has consolidated herself as the candidate to restore ‘order.’ She has promised stricter punishments for crime given people’s concern over increasing rates of violent crime in the country. Nevertheless, beyond this point, the party’s proposals have been very vague. Instead, Bullrich has focused her campaign on being the main opposition to UxP and LLA by criticising their policies. Voters have demonstrated that acting as an opposing force is no longer satisfactory. Considering the context of the elections, more demand for specific policies was made. Consequently, Bullrich did expand on economic policies, especially the implementation of a Bi-Currency system in which both the dollar and the peso might be legally used. However, her past as a Peronist alarms some voters, while others remain unconvinced by her unclear proposals. 

Myriam Bregman 

  • Current Role: Member of the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina (National Congress).
  • Political Coalition: Frente de Izquierda y de Trabajadores – Unidad (FIT)
  • Political Ideology: socialism. 

Myriam Bregman is a human rights and labour lawyer who has been participating in the political sphere for the last decade. The FIT has been the main left-wing, Marxist ideology party coalition in Argentina and has participated in all elections since its formation in 2011. Bregman openly opposes the repayment of debts owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and she proposes the nationalisation of most services and production processes. Most recently, she faced backlash for being the only candidate to openly voice support for Palestine during the presidential debate. Both in regional and national elections the political party rarely surpasses 3% of votes. However, its direct action in the streets and recent presence in the National Congress have been key for the introduction and debating of multiple human rights and social bills over the last decades. 

Juan Schiaretti 

  • Current Role: Governor of Cordoba (main centre to north province of the country). 
  • Political Coalition: Hacemos Por Nuestro País (HNP)
  • Political Ideology: centrist, part of another branch of Peronism that opposes UxP

Last but not least, Juan Schiaretti represents another branch of Peronism that opposes Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (current Vice President who has endorsed Massa as a candidate). As the only candidate from outside the City of Buenos Aires, he stands for Federalism and Provinces’ rights. 

The Results and their importance

Results retrieved from the Argentine Government 2023 Elections Website

As no candidate was able to surpass 45% of the votes or 40% with a 10% lead, there will be a ballotage (second round) between the two most popular candidates, Massa and Milei, on November 19. 

Unión por la Patria has recovered since the August primaries, taking the lead over La Libertad Avanza. If Massa triumphs in the November ballotage he will be received with distrust given his past performance, and the party’s corruption allegations. Moreover, internal disputes could further fragment his government. However, even when it seemed popularity was at an all-time low in face of the economic crisis, Unión por la Patria continued to gather popularity in the country. Massa will also depend upon the support of Bregman’s and Schiaretti’s voters in this next stage.

On the other hand, Javier Milei has provisionally found himself second despite not really losing any points since the primaries. If Milei becomes president, it will be difficult to govern as his party has not secured any provincial governors, or a majority in Congress and the Senate. As indicated by other results, La Libertad Avanza is not as popular as Milei is himself. In order to turn his words into actions, he will need support from other key political actors, mostly other Peronism opposition groups, which could be tricky to obtain. 

These results also represent a significant defeat for Juntos por el Cambio, the dominant second force to Peronism for the last ten years and winner of the legislative mid-term elections in 2021. People not only seem discontent with the officialism but also with the opposition’s poor performance. The big question mark is how will Bullrich supporters vote now. Will they pivot to Peronism due to Milei’s radical policies? Will they move further to the right due to deep aversion and distrust of Massa and his party? One thing is sure, those 23.8% of voters will be crucial in determining the next president of Argentina. 

All in all, this election has proved to be different from any previous ones. Argentines will have to choose between Peronism and a third political force for the first time in decades. Furthermore, the country’s political spectrum is slowly shifting to the right. More radical neoliberal policies are gaining popularity with the promise of economic growth even with possible democratic backsliding. However, this does not seem to be strong enough to undermine Peronist loyalty in the country. Lastly, it is important to keep in mind that voter turnout (77.7%) was the lowest for presidential elections in recent history. The Argentine people seem to be deeply dissatisfied with the country’s political stage and cynical about the future, regardless of who becomes the next president. 

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